Numlock News: February 1, 2021 • Pumpkin, Bilibili, Golf
By Walt Hickey
Physical DVD sales, long in decline, last year entered free fall, with preliminary sales of Blu-ray and DVDs down 25.55 percent and rentals down 26.81 percent. In 2019, those figures were declines of 18.29 percent and 20.08 percent, respectively, so there’s a little acceleration in the physical media decline. In 2020, total sales of physical movies were just $2.5 billion, down from $3.3 billion in 2019, less than half the $5.5 billion sold in 2016 and a quarter of the $10.3 billion sold in 2010. I fear the coming extinction of an already dying art form, the DVD commentary track where the performers are allowed to drink and do not have anything particularly interesting to say about the film yet are contractually obligated to appear, as situations that force actors into awkward contemplation and stilted spontaneity are increasingly rare in a post-Baron Cohen media environment. Our descendants will look at Ben Affleck’s DVD commentary on Armageddon and learn what it truly means to yearn.
There are about 3,000 local jails in the United States, and they accounted for 39 percent of all nonfederal correctional institution spending in 2019. As of 2017, local governments spent 521 percent as much on corrections as they did in 1977, and the cost of running jails was $25 billion in 2017, up 13 percent from $22 billion in 2007. That meant that they were outpacing the overall expenditure growth of 8 percent, but what’s remarkable is that the 13 percent increase in spending happened over the same period as a 20 percent decrease in crime and 19 percent drop in jail admissions. Overall, $1 out of every $17 county dollars in the U.S. goes to jails. When COVID-19 forced municipalities to weigh the lives they were incarcerating, they reduced jail populations by 31 percent nationwide from March to May 2020, and as of October 2020 the level was still down 15 percent year-over-year. Those released in March were readmitted less often than those released in January, indicating that there was little impact on public safety, according to a new report.
Stuck at home and in some cases with disposable income not being burned on events and travel, Americans are spending more money on better alcohol. Last year revenue for U.S. distillers was up 7.7 percent to $31.2 billion. Moreover, spirits that cost $40 per 750 milliliters were 40 percent of the industry’s growth in 2020, up from 34 percent in 2019. In the pre-pandemic United States, four out of five alcoholic drinks were purchased at a liquor store or supermarket, not a bar, and that trend has only increased. Whiskey sales were up 8.2 percent, cognac up 21 percent, and tequila and mezcal were up 17 percent, all significantly higher than the total alcohol sales growth of 3 percent.
Last week President Biden ordered the federal government to buy electric cars made with union labor in the United States, which poses a bit of a problem because literally at this time a vehicle with those specs does not actually exist. The U.S. government has a fleet of 645,000 vehicles, of which 3,200 are electric, and acquires anywhere from 50,000 to 60,000 new vehicles annually. Needless to say, that’s a huge volume for an electric vehicle market that typically moves 300,000 to 350,000 vehicles per year, so the goal is to try to push manufacturers towards tailoring their offerings for government sales. As it stands, 24 percent of the union-built Chevy Volt’s parts come from the U.S. and Canada, while the Nissan Leaf is 35 percent domestic parts but built at a non-union plant. Tesla’s Model X is 55 percent American parts. The Y and S are 60 percent, but they’re non-union, and the Mustang Mach-E from Ford is made in Mexico and China.
Golf is booming in the pandemic, with rounds of golf played up 32.2 percent in October year-over-year, up 56.6 percent in November and up 37.3 percent in December. Despite shutdowns in March and April, the number of golf rounds year-over-year is poised to be up, and while the clubhouses may be closed, many courses are in considerably better shape as a result than they were several years ago: the percentage of public courses in “poor” or “very poor” financial health dropped from a quarter in 2016 to 8 percent last year.
Bilibili is the third-largest game streaming company in China, incredibly popular among young Chinese people and home to the largest anime community in the country as well as the typical suite of entertainment that you’d expect from a large streamer. They had a $4 billion IPO on the Nasdaq in 2018 and a $2 billion secondary listing in Hong Kong is coming up. They do have one big problem, which is their need to not become too large that the enormous companies that dominate the Chinese tech market — Alibaba and Tencent — begin to see them as a rival rather than a partner. The reason is that Tencent owns the second-largest stake in the company (12.6 percent) and Alibaba owns the fourth-largest stake (6.8 percent). It’s an example of a yaobu gongsi, a “waist-level company,” which is too small to be an adversary but too large to be dismissed out of hand. Raising the ire of one of the giants can be fatal, like when Alibaba blocked e-commerce business Mogu from connecting to its website or when Tencent blocked WeChat users from accessing most ByteDance’s products.
Pumpkin seeds are a trendy ingredient becoming increasingly popular because of a few advantages over other comparable seeds, namely a reputation for being allergy-friendly and high protein that makes them very useful in vegan and vegetarian diets as well as granola bars and snacks. The pumpkin seed market is projected to grow $631.1 million from 2020 to 2024, or about 13 percent annually. Growers have varietals that produce hulless seeds to make them easier to digest, and demand from China has more American growers investing in them.
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