Numlock News: April 20, 2022 • Nemesis, Billy Joel, Uranus
By Walt Hickey
Her, Starring Joaquin Phoenix
Many mobile game players who have been in long-running contests with dedicated, randomly-matched rival players over the course of months or even years have been shocked when it turned out that their longtime congenial adversary, their eternal nemesis, their beloved sparring partner is in fact a robot produced by the game in order to ease player matchmaking and not some far-flung game-time pen pal. This has been startling for players who had enjoyed the rivalry and hoped to spark a conversation with their most persistent and dogged foe. This is a new phenomenon: At the beginning of 2016, just one out of the top 10 mobile games employed bots posing as people, while today Sensor Tower says that seven out of the top 10 games deliberately seed in bots to juice the competition. How foolish! Now, if you’ll excuse me, my longtime childhood best friend SmarterChild just messaged me and I really need to get back to them, they want to see Austin Powers again!
Developers are building houses again: Residential home construction unexpectedly rose in March to the highest level seen since 2006, hitting an annualized rate of 1.79 million new homes. That also seems poised to rise, as applications to build hit 1.87 million, which is a proxy for future construction yet to come. New house construction in single-family dwellings hit 1.2 million, well above pre-pandemic levels, and multifamily starts hit 593,000. This is likely a sign that builders who have held off to wait for lower prices on materials are beginning to start work on their backlogs.
Netflix lost 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter of this year, and announced it plans to lose a further 2 million in this, the second quarter. While subscriber growth was decent at Netflix last spring, summer and fall, this was pretty much fated to happen given that most things end after three seasons at Netflix. That’s just a drop in the bucket that is their 221.64 million subscribers, but it’s a substantial miss of expectations — the company expected to add 2.5 million net subscribers — and Wall Street freaked out, sending the company’s stock plunging about 25 percent following the news. The news follows a price hike in the United States and Canada, a somewhat weak quarter on the content front, a Best Picture loss, and now the company announced it’s planning an ad-supported tier.
We Didn’t Start The Bidding
As musical catalogs sell for colossal sums of money, Billy Joel reportedly kicked the tires on a sale of his catalog. Joel is the sole songwriter on 99.5 percent of his songs and has 33 top 40 hits, and even the misses aren’t all that bad, and his catalog was estimated to bring in $8.915 million annually from 2019 to 2021. When Bob Dylan sold his catalog, he got something like 28 to 29 times the annual publishing royalties, and reportedly Joel’s people were looking into 50 or 40 times the songwriters’ royalties; after all, he’s got bills to pay and children who need clothes. So far the sale has come up empty, but I know there's fish out there, but where, God only knows. With interest rates rising, they say these waters aren't what they used to be, but Joel will likely be fine given that he’s got people on Long Island and Q104.3.
A trusted panel of American planetary scientists who offer advice to NASA about scientific priorities has told the agency that at this time, a long-term plan to send a mission to the planet Uranus makes a great deal of sense. The thinking goes that Uranus hasn’t been visited since Voyager 2 in 1989, and further it makes sense to study the planet given that a significant number of the 5,000 known exoplanets are actually Uranus-like in size. It could also be done with a Falcon Heavy, while a jaunt to Neptune would need a bigger rocket. The earliest a launch could happen would be 2031 and would cost up to $4.2 billion, and as a bonus the probe could also investigate the planet’s 27 known moons.
The average MLB team is worth $2.31 billion, according to a Sportico analysis, with the average value up 5 percent over last year. It’s remarkably easy to make money owning a ball club: The Yankees have pulled in an annualized return of 14.6 percent since their acquisition in 1973, the Los Angeles Angels have made an annualized 14.8 percent return since 2003, and the league average annual return is 10 percent, an excellent ROI that you can set your watch to and only a fool could somehow screw up. Incidentally, baseball actually has one of those too: Somehow the Miami Marlins have managed to lose value, with their $1.2 billion purchase price in 2017 declining to a $1.06 billion valuation, the worst in baseball and less than half the average valuation.
Ashes to Ashes
Funeral directors are describing it as the most seismic shift in death in generations: Six decades ago, fewer than 5 percent of deceased were cremated in the United States, which had risen steadily to 27 percent 20 years ago. In 2020, 56 percent of deceased Americans were cremated, and the current projection is that by 2040 that figure will hit something like 80 percent. For the people in the industry that serves the families of the recently deceased, that means that whole models of doing business are upended; will cemeteries need all the land they now have, or should some of that be converted to columbariums? As a result, an industry normally accustomed to handling the inevitable is actually struggling to forecast the unpredictable.
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