Numlock News: March 26, 2020 • Weather, Wrestling, Beef
By Walt Hickey
In the week ending March 15 Americans spent $890.6 million on fresh beef, which is $376 million higher than the same week of 2019, a 73.1 percent bump. That includes a doubling in sales of ground beef, which accounts for about 40 percent of U.S. beef sales. Turns out that the virus news that rattled the country led to a pretty significant run on meat of all kinds. The nation’s grocers sold $422.1 million in chicken (up $183 million over the comparable week of 2019), $186.5 million in pork (up $87.9 million), and $155.1 million in deli meat (which was up 40 percent). Given that the week following was when there was a serious run on supermarkets, those figures are bound to pop higher still.
While literally every other form of entertainment was on functional lockdown, Disney+ launched in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Austria on Monday, and by all accounts it looks like another hit. We won’t have information on paying subscriptions for quite some time, but per App Annie the Disney+ app was downloaded five million times. Stateside the service is doing well: subscribers spent an average of three hours 10 minutes in the mobile app in December, which compares pretty well with far more established streaming services with more material like Netflix (four hours, 20 minutes) and Hulu (three hours, 20 minutes)
Even before a global pandemic wiped out its live events business, the WWE was having some issues. The wrestling behemoth saw a dip in streaming subscribers to its flagship WWE Network, falling from 1.53 million subscribers in 2018 to 1.39 million in 2019. Over the course of 2019, the only real bright spot on the balance sheet was the fees it collected from its content rights distribution, which were up 29 percent on the year. Meanwhile, its pay per views were down 7 percent, its domestic ticket sales dipped 11 percent, its product licensing (action figures!) was down 6 percent and its merch sold in-venue was down 14 percent. It could be time for a sale, or for Vince McMahon to step down, as it was an error to appoint The Shockmaster as CFO.
In the spot market for trucking, where last-minute logistical needs get handled, the average price per mile for a big rig is up 12 percent over the course of March. Life’s hard for truckers, as some of the systems put into place to mitigate the spread of coronavirus can make a difficult job harder, such as the closure of bathroom facilities and dining rooms at rest areas and a lack of cleaning materials. On the other hand, traffic is a breeze: at the I-85/I-285 junction in Atlanta, afternoon rush typically slows traffic to 15 miles an hour, but last week it moved 53 miles an hour, and at Los Angeles’ I-710/I-105 junction, the morning rush was gone and trucks moved twice the typical speed.
With China getting back on its feet after largely dealing with its coronavirus outbreak, something like 600 to 700 cinemas have reopened, and to ease people back into theaters the country plans to play the hits: Avatar, all four Avengers movies, Inception, Interstellar, it’s basically like a Redditor’s top ten in China this weekend. Over the past week China’s Film Bureau released other homegrown hits like Wolf Warrior 2, The Wandering Earth and Wolf Totem, while also allowing cinemas to keep 100 percent of the revenue to help get them back on their feet, with producers waiving their 43 percent of sales. Hollywood is putting up product, but will take their piece — U.S. films released in China only get 25 percent of their sales anyway — though it is lower than the 40 to 50 percent studios get in most markets. Playing the hits in China can be big money: Titanic made $145 million in 2012 for its 3D re-release. What is very interesting now is that the big box office question of last year — can Avengers: Endgame beat Avatar for the top all-time gross — is now back in play, baby. Right now Endgame has $2.798 billion and Avatar $2.744 billion, but the refs just added some stoppage time so let’s freaking go.
Pressed Into Service
An estimated 150,000 crew members with expired work contracts are still stuck on commercial ships worldwide, forced to work there because governments are not allowing them to enter but still want the cargo they’re hauling around. Oil tankers travelling between Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Sri Lanka, Singapore and China are all forbidding crew from disembarking and entering the country, so if you’re an Indian national on a tanker transporting oil from the UAE to China you’re pretty much stuck. Given the international composition of crews and the state of work contracts at sea — which are exploitative and under-policed on a good day — hundreds of thousands of seafarers on three to nine month contracts are in an even more precarious situation than usual. International maritime law says seafarers have the right to return home at the end of a contract at no cost to themselves, but that’s difficult when literally nobody will allow you to exit the boat. Monthly salaries for a trainee can be $400 per month and junior seamen can get $1,000, and your negotiating power isn’t great when you’re not exactly able to shop around for a new gig.
Unexpected result of a collapse in plane traffic: our ability to predict the weather is taking a ding. Meteorologists typically see 700,000 daily weather observations from aircraft, and now with 17 percent of all trips worldwide cancelled and 34 percent of U.S. flights grounded, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts has observed a 45 percent drop in reports from planes since the beginning of March. This lack of data is causing problems for the sophisticated models that produce and inform forecasts. After 9/11, the grounding of world air traffic led to a 4 percent to 5 percent loss in the Centre’s modeling abilities.
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