Numlock News: April 22, 2020 • Information, Generation, Matriculation
By Walt Hickey
A critical Canadian natural resource has had a rough several weeks, and analysts anticipate that several more months with no production could spell disaster in the billions for the economy. I’m talking about the signature export of Canada, namely, cities that look slightly like other, larger cities in the United States, however are considerably cheaper to film in than New York or Los Angeles. Tuesday, the Canadian Media Producers Association released an impact report estimating $1.757 billion CAD ($1.23 billion USD) in lost Hollywood production spending if a shutdown lasts through the end of June. Film production is a huge deal in Canada: last year, foreign film and television production in Canada hit an all-time high of $4.86 billion, and about 81,000 local cast and crew make a living from those movies.
An investigation found that 41 out of 50 U.S. state web pages updating citizens on the coronavirus outbreak in their area contain low-contrast text, which is difficult or impossible to read for visually impaired users. Particularly with a crisis like COVID-19 — where older people are at higher risk — poor accessibility on state and municipal websites can be a serious public health problem. Of the sites, 31 had empty links or buttons, 15 had missing input labels and 12 had missing alternative text, for an average of 28.5 errors per coronavirus homepage.
Yesterday Netflix announced that from January through March the service added 15.8 million paying subscribers, smashing its expectation of 7 million new subscribers during the period. The company estimates 7.5 million new customers this current quarter, but they threw in a caveat that nobody knows what the heck is happening anymore so who knows. Analysts surveyed had an average expectation of 3.8 million.
Television ad markets are in a state of upheaval. The big event when global advertisers allocate $20 billion in spending on broadcast and cable networks up front? They had to cancel that one. But beyond that, the very composition of what’s advertising on television right now has subtly shifted. While it’s estimated about 4,000 entities buy national TV time, not all of them are just slapping on some contemplative piano, cutting a reassuring voice-over, and running with that. During the week ending April 12, the number of 30-second ad spots for travel marketers was down 99 percent year over year, movie spots were down 89 percent — Trolls World Tour presumably staving off complete collapse — and auto ads were down 48 percent. Meanwhile, ads for household products were up 69 percent, and insurers were seizing the moment and had 47 percent more ads than the same time last year.
Over the past eight years, enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities has fallen 11 percent. This is due to a couple of things — rising costs, sure, but also there’s simply fewer 18-22 year-olds today than there were in 2012 for just boring demographic reasons — and every sector of the higher ed landscape (public, private, for profit, two year, four year) has felt it. International students had filled some of the gap, but they were looking elsewhere recently due to a challenging U.S. immigration environment, and now with the possibility of fully remote campuses come fall, many universities have simply no idea what’s going to happen next semester. For institutions that are already on unsteady financial footing, this could be the end of the road.
In the United States, wind generated more electricity nationwide than coal on three days over the past six weeks. A decade ago, coal accounted for half of electricity generation, but last month it was just 16.4 percent, down from 22.5 percent the month before. Cheap natural gas has a lot to do with coal’s downfall, and wind — while on the rise — still needs more serious investment to fully dislodge its more established generation rivals, but wind and solar combined for 12.2 percent last month, up from 10.7 percent last year.
A survey of 6,500 restaurant operators conducted by the National Restaurant Association detailed the extent of the damage wrecked on their industry, with 97 percent saying total dollar sales volume was down compared to 2019, and that the average decline in total sales was 78 percent. The industry lobby estimates $50 billion in lost sales in April, and while numbers from industry lobbies are inherently worthy of skepticism, that one pretty much sounds in the ballpark of what I’d expect on this one. While functionally everyone took some kind of hit from the outbreak, some are worse off than others: the average sales decline in the fine dining sector was 87 percent year over year, followed by bars and taverns (down 86 percent), casual (82 percent) and family dining (sales down 81 percent). Quick service — fast food — is for once the healthiest in the bunch, enduring a sales decline of 57 percent.
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