Numlock News: March 31, 2020 • Meteors, Documentary, Propaganda
By Walt Hickey
The Pentagon made a deal with The Leonie Group for a $120 million contract to produce television, radio and billboard advertisements in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2015 to promote the United States. A whistleblower complaint from the company’s former president led into a suit alleging that this was not actually done, and that its work was never verified as actually being seen by the people of Afghanistan. Once the company started monitoring the program in 2014, less than 75 percent of its television ads and less than 45 percent of its radio ads actually aired. The former president of the company alleged he was fired after refusing to submit an invoice that he claimed double billed the government, hence this all spilling out into the open. I’m going to wait until this is settled to cast judgement here, but I tell you what, a whole lot of stuff about the complicated perception of Americans in Afghanistan is starting to make sense now.
Sports: there are none! We’re scraping the bottom of the sports barrel right now, and no one is trying harder to keep the conversation going than ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in a field that is not actually occurring at this time. The last full week that ESPN had live sports, an average 1.04 million viewers in prime time tuned in. Then, the NBA suspended its season and the network averaged 647,000 prime time viewers, and then the week of March 16, ESPN averaged 550,000 prime time viewers. Honestly, that’s a genuinely impressive number! Would a half-million people watch a cop show where no crimes happened, or Jeopardy! with no money? ESPN has been airing lots of its film content, and who could have ever guessed that the unexpected loser of earth cancelling all sports was O.J. Simpson, who has had a searing Oscar-winning documentary about him re-airing as often as they can play it.
The best kind of business drama is Korean chaebol business drama, as the founders of colossal family-controlled conglomerates are beginning to retire or die and their kids get to fight each other and all the other shareholders for control of the companies. It’s like Succession, but in every single industry in their entire economy, and it is gripping. Korean Air was the most recent familial war, as Cho Hyun-ah lost a bid to oust her younger brother, Cho Won-tae, from chairmanship of the company. To maximize the intrigue, the structure of a chaebol involves spreading out stock to the whole family. Cho Hyun-ah and her activist investor allies were unable to remove her brother, who was backed by enough of the family and also Delta Air Lines, and won 56.67 percent of shareholder support. Korean Air has lost $1.4 billion in the past six years and also has a debt load of 862 percent of equity.
It’s a tough time to launch a book, with the physical bookstore shutdown eliminating any chance of an in-person book tour. Sales have taken a dip — in the week ending March 14, sales were down 10 percent compared to the previous week — but are hardly in freefall as the following week saw book sales roughly even. Kids books are a bright spot, with sales of children’s nonfiction popping 70 percent that week. There’s a chance online sales can stop some of the bleeding: Bookshop, a website that lets people buy direct from independent stores, saw sales jump to $380,000 this week up from $28,000 per week on average in February.
According to an analysis by ForwardKeys, international air travel bookings to travel destinations in the Western Hemisphere are down 26.8 percent compared to last year. June bookings are down 31.4 percent, July is down 24.6 percent and August is down 23.3 percent. Were there to be containment, this could rebound — 53 percent of bookings for the summer get made between May and August, at the last minute — but that’s contingent on a lot of progress.
Streamers have commissioned about 500 scripted television drama projects, per Ampere Analysis, but reality television (or “documentary”) isn’t that far behind, with 350 titles in the making. From December 2018 to December 2019, across 160 streamers the percentage of documentary projects in development rose from 24 percent to 51 percent. Meanwhile, linear television like cable and network saw the percentage of their developing shows that were unscripted dip from 44 percent to 41 percent. If you or a loved one owns an exotic animal farm and is currently being investigated by the FBI for attempting to call a hit on a rival exotic pet owner, please pick up the phone and call the Netflix corporation immediately. And also knock it off, that’s not cool.
A meteor behind a fireball seen in the Australian sky in July 2017 did not disintegrate or crash into earth, as many other meteors do, but rather bugged out of Earth’s atmosphere and carried on. Grazing fireballs are rare, and result when an object comes at earth’s atmosphere at a low angle and basically skims it before going on its way. The rock was estimated to weigh 130 pounds, moved at about 10 miles per second, and grazed earth at closest a distance of 36 miles above the surface. This object is actually bound for Jupiter, which it will encounter in 2025, after which it’s likely going to be spun off into interstellar space. Pfft, tourists.
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Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the speed of the meteor, it was ten miles per second, not ten miles per minute.
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