Numlock News: December 1, 2023 • Cursed, Usurper, Cointreau
By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend!
The seasonal Billboard Holiday 100 chart has existed for a grand total of 63 weeks going back to its creation in 2011, and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” has been No. 1 for 58 of them, including a 43-week consecutive run we are now in. However, there is a rival: Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is indeed on Carey’s heels, and has been steadily building momentum over the past five years to the point where the longstanding No. 2 may be able to make a genuine push for the top slot. The gap has been shrinking, and on streaming Lee’s song has seen significantly faster growth in listening compared to “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” and leads the Spotify Daily Top Songs chart. The label, and Lee’s fans, think that this very well could be the year for “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” with a promotional push, a new music video, a new remix and a TikTok campaign featuring the 78-year-old Lee, who recorded it when she was 13.
A drought in Panama has forced the Panama Canal to drastically cut the number of transits it can facilitate per day, down to 24 from the typical 34 transits per day, with a forecasted drop to 18 transits per day by February. That’s because it takes 200 million gallons of water for each ship to transit the canal, and Lake Gatun is getting pretty low. This is compelling some operators to say screw it, we’ll do this thing the old fashioned way. In December, a group of shipping companies is going to switch up routes for a number of services connecting China, Taiwan and South Korea to the U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coast. Rather than going through the Panama Canal, they’ll go through the Suez in Egypt or around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope to connect the East and Gulf coasts to Asia. That’ll add seven days of travel to East Coast ports and 10 days to Gulf Coast ports.
Open enrollment for private Medicare Advantage drug plans ends on December 7, which is why commercial breaks have been crammed full of insurers shilling their particular plans. Last year, over 9,500 ads aired daily over the nine-week marketing period, with 94 percent of commercials sponsored by health insurers and only 3 percent from the federal government. Given that these are lucrative for insurers and are advertised heavily to elderly people, in the past there have been concerns that Medicare Advantage ads rely on deceptive and misleading sales tactics, with some heavily implying that they’re officially the government or promising pricing that is only rarely available. This year features new rules for ads, and CMS asked insurance companies to submit their ads to ensure they complied. Of 1,700 commercials submitted and reviewed, over 300 were deemed misleading and rejected.
Remy Cointreau, the French Cognac maker, saw a calamitous drop in sales in the United States in the first half of its fiscal year, logging a 43 percent decline in operating profit. The company also produces Cointreau, which is a snooty version of triple sec. All told, the company is projecting a 15 percent to 20 percent decline in sales, but won’t cut prices that it hiked during a pandemic-era Cognac boom. The company instead is pointing to the ascent of tequila in the U.S. that is peeling away drinkers from Cognac.
Any tiny change that McDonald’s makes to its products is, owing to the size of the company and the mere scope of its business, necessarily a massive logistical and supply chain leap, so the company’s announcement that it has made over 50 tweaks to its burgers as part of a revamp to its offerings is no small feat. McD’s is attempting to shore up its offerings in light of the increasing competition from the fast-casual burger joints — Smashburger, Shake Shack, Five Guys — that specifically pursue the angle of quality to their burgers rather than the uniform efficiency of a McDonald’s burger. The fast food joint is ranked 13th among U.S. chains when it comes to how often recent customers describe their burgers as “desirable” according to market researcher Technomic, with just 28 percent of recent customers indicating they “crave” McDonald’s. Leading the list is somehow White Castle, which 72 percent of recent customers said they craved. Clearly, quality is the thing to chase if McDonald’s would dare compete with White Castle.
There’s a perception that the Grammy award for Best New Artist is cursed, and that the winners of the Grammy tend to have an inconsistent track record when it comes to actually panning out into bona fide hits. This is not entirely wrong: Only 26 percent of Best New Artist winners from 1960 to 1995 ended up making it into the Rock & Roll, Country Music or Songwriters Hall of Fame since their eligibility. That said, that’s pretty hard to do, and interestingly, the probability that a Best New Artist winner made it into a musical hall of fame was more than double the probability that a Best New Artist nominee that didn’t win did, at 13 percent. So essentially, this is one of those awards that does signal some talent, but take it with a grain of salt because the music industry is still really, really hard.
And They’re Off
NASCAR, despite advancing competition in the U.S. from F1, has inked a set of deals that stand to see the racing series get more money over the next seven years than they did over the previous ones. Fox and NBC will continue to split most of the most compelling races, with Amazon and TNT getting in on the middle 10 races of the season. TNT’s return is a callback to an earlier era for the sport, as TBS carried it from 1983 to 2000 and TNT picked up the circuit from 2001 to 2015. The Daytona 500, the biggest race of the year, averaged 8.17 million viewers on Fox, considerably higher than the 1.31 million American audience for F1’s flagship North American race in Vegas. The contract averages out to $1.1 billion a year across all four broadcasters, a bump to the $820 million per year over the previous 10 years.
It’s been a great couple weeks in the Sunday edition.
Two weeks ago, I spoke to Rebecca Baird-Remba, who wrote “New York City’s Migrants Surge Enlists a Reluctant Commercial Real Estate Industry” for Commercial Observer back in September. I found this article absolutely fascinating, as it got into the nitty gritty of how a city actually responds to a potential crisis, or, for that matter, fails to. I’ve been thinking about Baird-Remba’s piece for months now, and in light of recent cuts, I wanted to learn more. Rebecca can be found at Commercial Observer and on Twitter at @thecitywanderer.
Then last week, I spoke to Jeff Yang, who wrote the new book The Golden Screen: The Movies That Made Asian America. The book is a deep dive into the history of Asian-American cinema, and is as a result also a very cool history of cinema as a whole. We spoke about the intersection of the Asian population in the United States and the movies, why there has been such an exciting surge in filmmaking by and about Asian-Americans in the past twenty years, and also easily one of the most interesting anecdotes I have ever heard about the Fast and Furious movies.
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