Numlock News: November 20, 2019 • Beetlejuice, Baby Food, Dwayne Johnson
By Walt Hickey
Beetlejuice: The Musical struggled financially earlier this year after its launch, which is usually a terrible sign for the future staying power of a Broadway show. But then something unexpected happened: despite logging weekly takes of $600,000 to $900,000 April through June, ticket sales have been rising steadily for the past 14 consecutive weeks. Usually shows run out of gas, with their advance declining two to seven months into a run. Part of it is no doubt the spooky season, but the show’s revenues are up 100 percent compared to 14 weeks ago, hauling in $1.37 million last week and notching a full $1.48 million in the week ending November 10.
The podcast ad business is eyeing programmatic sales — the kind of automated buying and selling of targeted ads that ruined the rest of the internet — as a new way to get more money out of the audio medium. Though that would sacrifice the direct host-read ad reads that have long dominated the medium and deprive listeners of the pleasure of hearing a trusted entertainer plug mattresses or bedsheets or supplements to ameliorate sexual failure, it would also let advertisers target consumers, which is where people tell me the money is supposed to be. Programmatic made up 1.3 percent of U.S. podcast ad sales last year, up from 0.7 percent in 2017, and is primed to explode in 2020. In 2018, 38.2 percent of podcast ads were bought directly or on a quarterly basis. Revenues are expected to hit $678.7 million in 2019, up from $479.1 million last year.
Babies may not have a sophisticated palate, but they damn sure know what they like to eat (sugar) and what they don’t. This has made things complicated in a baby food business that is seriously trying to get more vegetables into growing kids and less sugar. Though Gerber — which dominates the baby food business with two-thirds of the market and has the highest consumer loyalty of any brand in America — stopped adding sugar, it’s still there in the forms of the sugary fruits mixed in with vegetables. An analysis of 500 baby foods with vegetables found that 40 percent listed a fruit as a first ingredient, a quarter listed red or orange vegetables first and foremost, and merely 1 percent of baby food was mostly dark green vegetables, you know, the ones that are actually good for you. A 2002 study by Gerber found one in five babies ate no green vegetables daily, and one in three had no fruit.
The art market is as leveraged as any other, with avid collectors financing their next purchases with their previous holdings as collateral and then using those assets down the line to buy more art. When managed responsibly, this is typical financial engineering, but given that art in general is volatile and far more speculative than other assets it can go wrong. This year, U.S. collectors have staked their art assets to obtain somewhere between $21 billion and $24 billion in financing. That amount has been rising: in 2016, the art-secured lending market was somewhere between $15 billion and $19 billion. In tough situations — such as when an estate is managed by someone who did not buy all the art but has to find out why they owe $300,000 per month or else they lose it — art owners are caught between the gavel and the anvil, especially when the market is as weak as it is right now. The global value of art sales was down 22 percent at Christie’s in the first six months compared to the same time last year.
2019 Box Office
The 2019 box office is down 5.5 percent compared to 2018, and despite the runaway success of films like Avengers: Endgame and Joker has not been able to overcome high-profile flops and franchise disappointments. The industry is turning its eyes to a rag-tag group of rebels and also Dwayne Johnson to take this one past the finish line in some respectable fashion. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Frozen 2 may just be what the box office needs to get it on pace with last year, when the top offerings on the year-end market were The Grinch and Aquaman. Analysts anticipate the domestic box office will top out at $11.5 billion, which is just 3 percent down from the $11.9 billion of last year. The dip is largely due to a weak early 2019, when there was no Black Panther to run the table and revenues were down 16 percent. If Dwayne Johnson, Queen Elsa and Princess Leia can’t find a way to beat Benedict Cumberbatch and, no seriously, Aquaman, I don’t know what to believe anymore.
Space Boast Coast to Coast
China has launched 27 orbital missions this year as of Sunday, followed by Russia with 19 and the United States with 16 such missions. At most, the U.S. will do six more orbital launches this year, meaning that China has for the second year in a row led the world when it comes to shooting stuff into space. Part of that, for this year, has been a decreased year for SpaceX, which launched 21 missions last year but just 11 in 2019, as well as a slower year for United Launch Alliance, which has fired off two Delta IV Mediums, one Delta IV Heavy and one Atlas V.
Ships have been ripe for disease outbreaks for time immemorial, even propelling illnesses such as the Spanish Flu worldwide and accelerating its spread. And while we’re not exactly packed into WWI-era steamers moving men and materials to the front anymore, cruise ships do share that petri dish quality. In the 1990s, the largest cruise ship had a 2,000 passenger capacity, but today the ships can hold 6,000. The volume of people on cruise ships is up from 7 million a decade ago to 22 million today, and when an outbreak hits it can get bad, fast. The average cruise passenger in 2016 was 46 years old, and as a group cruisegoers can be more immunocompromised than landlubbers.
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