Numlock News: January 22, 2019
By Walt Hickey
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Film studio Paramount is in a fairly dire position, having accumulated $900 million in losses from 2016 to 2018. It’s left out of effectively all major cinema trends that aren’t “pay Tom Cruise to do stuff near a camera.” It spun off a successful television business, it canned a horror producer who gets returns on investment that rival counterfeiting schemes, it’s the only major studio without a super hero franchise, and one time bosses said accurate if impolitic things about late-career Spielberg movies in print. A $700 million upgrade to its 29-soundstage lot has not materialized, and it’s releasing 13 movies next year which, compared to the 90 Netflix is cranking out, isn’t particularly impressive. This has prompted some talk of a Fox-style acquisition.
It’s time for yet another edition of our favorite game here at Numlock, “Yo, is this a pyramid scheme?” An Alberta woman is inviting people to submit a 350-word letter and pay an entrance fee of $25 in order to potentially win a house that was put on the market for $1.7 million. The house — a 5,000 square foot dwelling in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains — didn’t sell at that price, prompting the innovative move. On one hand, getting 68,000 people to pay you $1.7 million is pretty clever, but just to tap the breaks here I’m fairly certain this is actually just an illegal lottery with a homework assignment, right?
The apparel industry uses an eye-popping amount of water, with one study estimating the industry consumes 79 billion cubic meters of water per year, which is roughly the amount of freshwater the Nile discharges annually. Most of that is in growing cotton, but the use of water in production — washing machines remove dye, sand, pumice and detritus from jeans — is promting some to overhaul the processes of making clothes. Saitex makes jeans for J. Crew, Target, Madewell, G-Star Raw, Edwin and more, and recently adapted water-saving and recycling mechanisms that slashes its $700,000 water bill in half.
Mexico is in a fuel crisis following an explosion at the site of an illegally-tapped pipeline that killed at least 73 people on Friday, and the president has controversially closed pipelines to reduce theft. The Mexican state-run oil company Pemex said it detected 12,500 pipeline taps in 2018 and estimated the value of the stolen gas was $3 billion. It’s reported that money from illegal gasoline taps is common if not a necessity in seriously impoverished rural areas, and bribery to compel officials and police from enforcing make it normalized.
The Next Greek Yogurt
One of the most cutthroat businesses in the supermarket is the yogurt aisle, with Danone, Chobani and General Mills accounting for 70 percent of the $8.7 billion in sales and each angling to find the next Greek yogurt. Americans didn’t eat a meaningful amount of Greek yogurt in 2007, but now it accounts for half of American sales. This means that everyone’s hunting for the next big thing, so they’re throwing yogurt on the wall to see what sticks: now supermarkets stock 300 to 350 different yogurt products. The costs of missing out are enormous: Yoplait lost out to Chobani in 2016 as the most popular brand, and today has 15.6 percent of the market to Chobani’s 20.6 percent. Danone’s Activia and Oikos combine to 32.5 percent. Americans eat 14 pounds of yogurt per year.
Fun fact, basically everyone in the entertainment business gets loads of free movies and television shows ahead of awards season because production companies want awards voters to see their stuff. This can border on ridiculous: three years ago Netflix sent out a 20-pound DVD shipment to Emmy voters, which insiders estimate cost $4 million. There are 25,000 members and a typical studio with multiple titles can regularly cost at minimum $1 million. The Television Academy — which runs the Emmy Awards and charges $200 per episode per peer group (there are 29 peer groups) up to $2,000 per episode — has just announced a plan to roll out a screener site that will allow voters to simply watch the shows online. This will cut back on postage and manufacturing and possibly aid studios in gathering data on what voters watch. It’s not all positive, though, as it’ll make it way harder to justify your profession to your parents simply by having a bunch of swag on your coffee table.
As car manufacturers try to move away from gas-powered vehicles, some are investing in hydrogen fuel cell technology rather than the headline-grabbing battery tech. Those may become financially viable soon as well: while the first fuel cell vehicles needed 100 grams of platinum — about $3,000 worth — today they only need about 10 grams to make the 0.01 millimeter thin membrane. For Toyota, this could mean hydrogen cars with Corolla pricing in the medium future.
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