Numlock News: January 8, 2020 • Holograms, Vanderpumps, Starlink
By Walt Hickey
Bravo has remained an island of stability in a drastically evolving cable television climate. During the 2018-19 season, ad revenue at Bravo was up 2.3 percent while ad revenue at the overall linear television market was down 4 percent. This is the house that Vanderpump built: a show about six people who work at a restaurant in West Hollywood has spiraled into a sprawling reality program about people who sometimes appear in that restaurant, but mostly hang out elsewhere and do other stuff. It has a weekly audience of 2.3 million people. Business is excellent: while the core cast was paid $10,000 for the entire first season, they now make $25,000 per episode since a new contract. The real money is obviously in plugging a restaurant empire to 2.3 million people a week.
The concept that the creation of a work can make an artist immortal has been taken to its logical conclusion with the increased use of shows that render deceased musicians with the use of hologram technology. About half of the top 20 touring acts of 2019 are over the age of 60, and some artists’ estates are eyeing the inevitable with an eye less to musical fidelity and more to Necromancy. The estate of Roy Orbison mounted a 58 date Orbison-Buddy Holly tour starting last September, grossing $1.7 million over 16 shows and selling 71 percent of available seats. A similar five-show date with the dead Frank Zappa sold an average 973 seats per show. Songs by dead musicians being played on stage for big bucks is hardly new: “Rain — a Tribute to the Beatles” is a perennial presence atop concert charts, averaging $95,955 and 1,833 tickets per show over the past three years, so from a cynical point of view a hologram may just be a way to cut down on craft services and tour busses.
Bond issuers behind student-loan backed financial instruments are contending with a problem, namely that borrowers are not paying back the bonds as quickly as originally believed, if at all. Some get around this by extending the maturity date by decades: issuers have extended maturities on $11.5 billion in outstanding bonds for older student loans to pump back up their ratings, sometimes pushing them back by as much as 54 years, as if a borrower will be anymore equipped to pay off the debt when they’re 114 as they are when aged 50. The issuers do this to keep the bond rated triple-A, and while this might sound like something Ryan Gosling would explain to Steve Carell while fiddling with a Jenga tower in The Big Short, the loans are backed by government guarantee that they’ll be paid off the balance when the borrowers die. Effectively, this is a temporal punt to accommodate for the fact that unexpected swathes of Americans will be dead before they pay off their student loan and Uncle Sam won’t pay until then. For the pre-2010 program, $262 billion in federally guaranteed student loan bonds originated by private lenders are outstanding, and 26 percent are in default. Among the newer direct lending from the Education Department — total $1.2 trillion — 10 percent or $120 billion are in default.
Jobs that today are dominated by women are poised for a significant expansion in the coming years, and may soon see an infusion of men as increased demand and rising wages could possibly lead men to overcome preconceived biases about what is and isn’t masculine work. Nursing, for instance, offers good benefits and stability, and can offer high wages, but is just 13 percent male. Between 2018 and 2028, the number of nurse practitioners is projected to rise 28 percent, the number of physician assistants is poised to rise 31 percent, and the number of home health aides is projected to jump 37 percent.
A study about sharks turned up some distressing information about the efficacy of marine protective areas, which are regions set aside for preservation from exploitation and fishing and the like. The EU’s territorial waters have an extensive network of marine protective areas, roughly 29 percent of the territorial waters. The study of 727 such areas found 59 percent are still commercially trawled. Not just that, but the average trawling intensity in the protected areas is 1.4 times higher than non-protected areas, and the abundance of at-risk species is down 70 percent in those highly-trawled areas. Basically, circling an area in red on a map, scribbling “here thar be dragons,” but refusing to do anything to police it turns out to not do all that much!
SpaceX is now the owner of the largest commercial satellite constellation, passing the 150 sensing and imaging satellites operated by Planet Labs. SpaceX launched 60 Starlink satellites Monday night, bringing the total to 180 satellites and two prototypes in orbit. The Starlink aims to offer network access to remote regions of the planet, but has caught heat from astronomers who argue that the swarm interferes with observation and exacerbates the number of items in orbit. The company aims to have 12,000 satellites in orbit and will launch 60 Starlink satellites every two weeks indefinitely.
Even as urbanite young people in some transit-rich metros get attention for forgoing car ownership, it’s worth noting that the total number of cars on the road is higher than ever. Annually, Americans log 3.2 trillion vehicle miles, which is more than double the 1.5 trillion in 1980 and is considerably higher than the 2.9 trillion notched in 2010. The narrative that young people drive less is legit — only 26 percent of 16-year-olds have a drivers license, down from 43.6 percent in 1987 — but it’s incontrovertible that the simple number of cars on the road is higher than before, up to 221.4 million in 2018 from 196.6 million in 2005.
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