Numlock News: March 30, 2020 • Puzzles, Pilots, Podcasts
By Walt Hickey
The timing of the pandemic may permanently change how scripted television gets made. Pilot season is the experimental period of television production, with networks ordering dozens of pilots in February and March, the creatives spending the next six weeks making them, and then afterward the networks deciding whether to go with them or not around May. This process injects an estimated $500 million into the entertainment economy, especially for small firms who sign on to roll the dice on a possible picked up show. This year, the networks ordered 56 pilots, and only one of them — B Positive — finished shooting before the production shutdown, meaning the other 55 are in limbo. And while broadcasters had already been cutting back — last year broadcast orders were down 12 percent — this could be the inflection point, and perhaps even the end of the September-to-May programming schedule altogether.
A new report from the Global Wind Energy Council noted that 2019 was the second-best year on record for the industry, with 60.4 gigawatts of generation installed in 2019, 19 percent higher than the 2018 information. The U.S. and China were the drivers: China installed 24 gigawatts last year, bringing its total to 230 gigawatts of generation, while the U.S. extended a tax credit and saw a further 9.1 gigawatts installed last year, for the first time ending with 100 gigawatts of wind generation capacity. Offshore wind is now 5 percent of the global capacity.
The global supply chains of many industries are in flux at this time, and issues with China’s exports of benzylfentanyl, norfentanyl and 4-anilinopiperidine are making it really hard for importers to ensure a steady supply and consistent pricing mechanism for heroin, meth and fentanyl. It’s not just the blue chips wrestling with supply problems: the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel can’t get their hands on the precursor chemicals to manufacture drugs because China produces over 80 percent of the chemicals. I would do anything to be a fly on the wall for that quarterly earnings call.
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There’s never been a better time to start a podcast, but there’s also never been a worse time to listen to one. According to Podtrac, downloads of podcasts are down 10 percent since the start of March, and total unique listeners are down 20 percent over the same timeframe. The dip was most significant after March 9, and last week the entire U.S. audience for podcasts fell 8 percent compared to the previous week. No commuting means no time to knock out two episodes per day, and not all genres were affected equally: news saw a dip of just 10 percent, while true crime has fallen 30 percent since early March, the biggest drop. Comedy podcast listening was down 15 percent and culture podcasts were down 17 percent.
Turns out locking lots of society in their apartments for a few weeks means that it’s boom times for the puzzle business. Ravensburger is the largest seller of jigsaw puzzles in the world, moving about $600 million product a year, some assembly required. The company’s North American puzzle sales over the past two weeks are up 370 percent compared to the same period of 2019, and on March 26 alone — right about when the boredom set in — sales were ten times the size of March 26, 2019. Of the top ten items searched for on Amazon last Tuesday, ranked seventh was puzzles. On March 3, they were the 1,435th most-searched item.
Postponing the Tokyo Olympic Games that had been scheduled for this summer is not just a major undertaking for the Games’ planners, but it’s also having difficult downstream effects for the organizations that support the various sports. An Associated Press analysis of 43 of the 50 U.S. governing bodies that oversee the individual sports found that they projected losses of over $121 million in revenue between February and June. Those governing bodies generally see about 80 percent of their budget dedicated to supporting the athletes who may at some time compete for the U.S. at the Olympic Games. Setting aside the outlier U.S. Tennis Association, the governing bodies bring in about $685 million, and about half of them are quite small, with less than $5 million in annual revenue. Without the payout from NBC, the shortfall for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is about $200 million, which has forecasted the losses across all of American sports to be between $600 million and $800 million.
Rideshare companies are working on further ways to get more money out of having cars on the road, but one angle — installing screens on the tops of Ubers and Lyfts to broadcast advertisements — is proving controversial in some cities who don’t want more visual clutter. One company, Firefly, exists entirely to swim in Uber and Lyft’s wake, paying the independent drivers to install systems that turn their 2017 Hyundai Elantras into roving billboards. Uber itself is paying drivers $300 to get the screen installed and $100 per week if they hit hourly driving minimums. New York bans the practice, but the companies are trying to get those laws changed, coming off a successful drive in Los Angeles to squelch a law that would have banned the ads.
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