The Usual Suspects:

  • Nvidia earns it: First quarter results for the AI chipmaker showed revenue of $26 billion, up 18 percent from the previous quarter and up 262 percent from a year ago.
  • Red Lobster issues boil over: The chain filed to reorganize under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and CEO Jonathan Tibus noted in one document that the culprit may well have been overpriced real estate deals that garnered $1.5 billion for Golden Gate Capital, the private equity firm that bought Red Lobster in 2014.
  • Vast losses prompt investors to dump Trump: Donald Trump’s Trump Media & Technology Group, which owns the far-right social media platform Truth Social, said it lost $327.6 million last quarter, on revenue of just $770,500.
  • Axing Nemo: Pixar, the animation studio that Disney bought in 2006, is laying off 175 people and shifting its focus back to feature films, after critics say it got spread too thin producing animated series for Disney+.

Whose voice is it anyway?

Scarlett Johansson is angry — and she’ll tell you in her own words. In a public statement released Monday, Johansson, who voiced a virtual assistant that develops an emotional attachment to a human in the movie Her, said Altman asked her to voice his new flirty ChatGPT AI, known as Sky. “He said he felt that my voice would be comforting to people,” Johansson said.

She turned Altman down. When she heard Sky for the first time, Johansson said she was “shocked, angered, and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine that my closest friends and news outlets could not tell the difference.”

Even worse, she says, was Altman openly insinuating the resemblance was intentional: He tweeted the single word “Her.”

This isn’t the first time OpenAI has been accused of appropriating someone else’s property. The New York Times has taken OpenAI to court, accusing the chatbot parent of illegally using the Times’ copyrighted archives to train its large language model.

Open AI responded in a statement that it was pure coincidence that the voice that sounds like ScarJo. “The voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to resemble hers. We cast the voice actor behind Sky’s voice before any outreach to Ms. Johansson,” the company said.

ScarJo had her lawyers write to Altman and the Sky voice was taken down a few days later, but she says she wants new laws to protect artists from AI appropriation, a move applauded by the actor’s union SAG-AFTRA.

It may be that the technology is just moving too swiftly for anyone to know what is reality and what is AI, but it doesn’t seem that Altman has been talking to his chatbot recently. I asked ChatGPT why it sounded like ScarJo. The reply was almost human in its evasiveness:

My voice doesn’t inherently sound like Scarlett Johansson’s. However, the perception of my voice might sometimes evoke certain qualities or characteristics you associate with her. This could be due to the tone, clarity, or cadence of my responses, which can be similar to those of professional voice actors or personalities known for their articulate and pleasant vocal delivery. Different TTS [text-to-speech] systems use a variety of voice models, some of which might be designed to sound soothing, clear, and articulate, similar to how Scarlett Johansson speaks.

It’s a gas gas gas

More than two years into its full-scale war on Ukraine, Russia is still shipping natural gas to Europe through Ukraine’s state-owned pipeline network — and paying Ukraine some $800 million a year for the privilege.

The contract is up at the end of this year and a debate is raging in energy circles about whether or not to renew it. Most of Europe has abandoned Russian natural gas, once seen as cheap and abundant, with the European Union imposing sanctions on Russia over the invasion. Many nations found ample replacements in liquified natural gas arriving by ship from the U.S. and Canada, and in gas pipelines coming from oil-rich Azerbaijan, once part of the Soviet Union. The sanctions have pushed the volume of gas in the pipes down from 90 billion cubic meters in 2019 to just 13 billion last year, and gas prices in Europe have fallen dramatically from peaks after the Russian invasion in February 2022. That’s been good news for U.S. energy companies, which have seen LNG exports rise 140 percent in the last five years.

Russia may also be disincentivized to ship gas to Europe. Under the existing agreement, it has to pay for shipping 40 billion cubic meters a year, whether or not it uses that capacity. But cheap Russian gas has long proven a useful tool of the Kremlin’s foreign policy. The loudest EU opponents of ending Russian imports are Slovakia and Hungary, which also get transit fees for running pipelines that pick up at the Ukrainian border.

It’s no coincidence that Slovakia and Hungary, and to a lesser extent Austria, are the loudest voices in the EU protesting military aid to Ukraine and seeking a negotiated truce with Russia. But it’s also not clear what Ukraine wants to do. It needs the money, but for every dollar it gets in transit fees, Russia gets many more in gas sales to feed its war machine.

Will the Feds break up Live Nation and Ticketmaster?

What’s wrong with the Live Nation/Ticketmaster marriage, which has dominated the sale of concert tickets since Live Nation bought the ticketing giant in 2010? You can ask the millions of Taylor Swift fans who got priced out of concerts or waited in long lines only to find that there were no seats left for the latest TayTay tour. (Not to mention the computer screwup that nearly tanked her 2023 World Tour). Or you could ask the U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who filed a civil antitrust lawsuit in Manhattan on Thursday to break up the entertainment giant.

Live Nation, he said at a Thursday press conference, “suffocates its competition.” Live Nation/Ticketmaster controls 80 percent of primary ticketing at major venues, 60 percent of concert promotions across the country, and 60 percent of large concert venues, Garland said. As a result, he added, “fans pay more in fees, and artists have fewer opportunities to play concerts.”

Ever since the 2010 merger, the Justice Department has been monitoring Live Nation and recently said the company was retaliating against stadiums and venues that used other ticketing companies.

Plus, fans have to pay a mountain of fees to buy a ticket: convenience fees, per-order fees, handling fees and payment processing fees. Live Nation does this by using its “anti-competitive and illegal” near-monopoly power in the market to force venues to sign exclusive ticketing deals and forcing venues to book the 400 or so top artists that it manages, from Alanis Morrisette to ZZ Top, the lawsuit says.

Live Nation doesn’t dispute that it is big, or even the biggest. As the company boasts on its own website, “Live Nation produces more concerts, sells more tickets, and connects more brands to music than anyone else in the world.” Or as the lawsuit puts it: “One monopolist serves as the gatekeeper for the delivery of nearly all live music in America today.”

On a webpage devoted to the lawsuit, Live Nation says there’s more competition in the industry than ever and says the Justice Department suit distracts from “real solutions” that would cut prices and protect fans, like allowing artists to cap resale prices.

The lawsuit asks the court to order Live Nation to sell off Ticketmaster.

“It’s time to break it up,” Garland said.

Peter S. Green is a veteran reporter and editor who has spent more than two decades covering business and finance from Eastern Europe to New York City, and has worked for Bloomberg News, The New York Post, The New York Times and The Messenger. He lives in New York City and is always looking for the next big story.

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