By Walt Hickey
There are now 8,366 different Funko Pops, those pop culture-based weird little bobble heads that invariably appear in Secret Santas and nerd-adjacent media accumulations with beady eyes and seemingly endless designs. The Pop Vinyl figures are a massive business: in 2018 sales were up 33 percent to $686.1 million, with $258 million in gross profit. That’s up from $98 million in profit in 2015, when Funko licensed just 205 properties. No single intellectual property makes up more than 6 percent of Funko’s business, which in 2018 was 20 percent characters from new movies, 16 percent TV, and 17 percent from gaming. The turnaround is impressive: a Pop can be designed in 24 hours, molded in 45 days, and sourced in a further 15 days, with each new figure costing just $5,000 to $7,500 to develop, which explains why there are 29 different models of Conan O’Brien available for sale. The company has been described by its CEO as “recession-proof,” which is what tempting the gods sounds like these days.
Endangered and Invasive
Aldrovanda vesiculosa, better known as the waterwheel, is a carnivorous plant that feasts on seed shrimp, small crustaceans, insect larvae and even tadpoles. In the past 150 years, 90 percent of its natural habitat has been eradicated by humans, and the unique and exciting plant is on death’s door, either extinct or unverified in 32 of the 43 countries it calls home. It’s also a disastrous invasive species, thriving in Virginia, New Jersey and New York, an exotic species that threatens native plants. This puts the waterwheel in a complicated position: what is to be done about an invasive species whose new habitat is the only hope for its global survival? Not since Battlestar Galactica has this question been thoroughly contemplated, but I kind of love this idea, and think more endangered species should be hurled into new habitats to see what would happen. I’d be thrilled if, like, residents of Newark were sick and tired of all the damned panda bears pooping on their lawns, or if the streets of Chicago were littered with flocks of obnoxious reanimated Dodo birds at considerable annoyance to the locals.
Earlier this year, China’s government gave its film industry something between a goal and an ultimatum: turn the nation from a big film power into a strong film power on par with the U.S. by 2035, developing at least 100 movies per year that make $15 million each. This is a bit of a challenge in China, as its creators have to both make a lot of money with movies while also appeasing the party with the content of the film, as last year the government moved the film industry under the control of its propaganda bureau. Nevertheless, the nation presents a ton of opportunity for content producers, including the Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis, a studio complex with 40 sound stages, one of which is the largest in the world.
Rats are terrible for the wildlife native to islands, which typically have not evolved any defenses to the rodents and are slaughtered wholesale by the rats. Every year 200,000 seabirds nest on Saint Paul Island in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, and another 2 million nest on Saint George Island about 75 miles away. Alaska and authorities take strenuous and expensive efforts to eradicate the rats to keep the birds safe. Their track record speaks for itself: since 1600, 40 to 60 percent of all recorded bird and reptile extinctions are attributable to rats, and the loss of those species wipes out entire ecosystems. Only a dozen of the bigger islands in the AMNWR have rat infestations, explaining why 40 million seabirds go there annually. Rats are gnarly, killing more than they need to eat and reproducing quickly. Alaska has absurd fines, up to $200,000, for ships that dare come to shore with rats onboard.
Old Town Road
A new poll found that 42 percent of U.S. adults have heard the song “Old Town Road,” so just wait until you all get to fall wedding season. A full 85 percent of Gen Z adults have heard the song, as have 69 percent of millennials. Interestingly enough that’s also the exact proportion — 69 percent — of Gen Z that have heard the song more than five times, which as far as I’m concerned is the only way to consume music, hearing something you kind of enjoy and then repeating it endlessly until all possible joy has been extracted with maximum efficiency.
The New England Patriots are — according to an advanced stat called snap-weighted age — the oldest team in the NFL by far, an aged, geriatric organization with a breathtakingly old age of 27.9 years old. Now that we’ve all agreed to move on from that sentence, which caused me physical pain to type, it’s worth observing that the Patriots also recently won the Super Bowl. In a league increasingly defined by youth (the average team’s age is 26.5 years old, the third consecutive record low), it turns out that there’s increasing potential in optimizing teams by investing in undervalued veterans. Right now, 62 percent of players are on their rookie deals, and the average cost of one of those players is $1.06 million compared with $5.85 million for players after their first contract. But averages don’t mean everyone is pricey, a fact that Bill Belichick presumably learned from the Archfey Eldritch demigod otherworldly patron he formed a pact with.
The NBA, a league dominated by west coast teams but with an east coast following, took a hint and is scaling back the number of late nationally televised games this season. Last year, 56 nationally televised games tipped off at 10:30 p.m. eastern time, a number that this year will drop to just 33 such games. LeBron James and his supporting cast, who go by “the Lakers,” will be in 10 late doubleheader games at 10:30 p.m., down from 19 last year. Half of homes with a television are on the east coast, and James’ move from Cleveland, which is shockingly in the Eastern Time Zone, to Los Angeles, which to some notoriety is not, led to demonstrable dips in viewership last season.
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