Numlock News: February 13, 2019

By Walt Hickey

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The Academy Awards will give out four awards off-air, because the most important rule in television is that people want more commercials and fewer happy people winning prizes. The move, pushed by ABC, isn’t really backed up by data. The 2002 ceremony lasted 4 hours and 23 minutes, but scored 40.54 million viewers, far higher than the 26.5 million who watched last year’s 3 hours and 53 minute ceremony. The reality is that live television ratings have been declining for a decade, and you could stage a live stunt show in the middle of the Dolby Theater and it might not move the needle. On one hand, sure the Oscars could get a little brisker. On the other hand, who the hell would take advice on “how to get good ratings” from ABC, a network that has not once been the most-watched in the new millennium. I love the Oscars, I just don’t get the urge to cut them down to the length of one of ABC’s many Castle marathons. If you can’t make money televising Cate Blanchett on a red carpet maybe you’re in the wrong business.

Brent Lang, Variety

A Number That Made Me Audibly Gasp

I’m a massive fan of the research done by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, a University of Southern California research group that painstakingly counts every speaking character on-screen in the top 100 grossing films of each year to report back on how well women and people of color are represented onscreen. And for the past decade, the result has been stifling with essentially no change, year after year. Since 2007, the percentage of films with a female lead or co-lead has remained stubbornly flat, essentially bopping around the low-30s and mid-20s for a disappointing decade. Last year, though, there was a huge bump: 40 percent of the top-grossing films had a woman as lead or co-lead, up from 32 in 2017, 33 in 2016 and 32 in 2015. The full report usually drops closer to summer, but this preliminary data is, for the first time in a long time, actually fairly encouraging!

Annenberg Inclusion Initiative

Super Gonorrhea

Congratulations to humanity, which collectively invented super-gonorrhea. They did it by giving each other gonorrhea and then throwing antibiotics at it until the gonorrhea stopped being treatable by antibiotics. These cases are still isolated, but the version of the clap resistant to azithromycin was found in 81 percent of 77 countries by the World Health Organization. What’s gonorrhea’s secret? It’s exceptionally good at adapting, much better than chlamydia or syphilis. The UK is working on only using a forthcoming antibiotic, zoliflodacin, specifically for gonorrhea so as to not accidentally weaponize the venereal disease more. Still, there may be a solution in vaccination: a New Zealand vaccination program to fight meningitis (which is 80 percent to 90 percent identical to gonorrhea) found that those vaccinated were 31 percent less likely to contract gonorrhea, and those who did contract it often had a less severe case.

Amit Katwala, Wired

FDA Declares War

There are 50,000 to 80,000 dietary supplements on the market, with three out of four Americans taking one regularly and four out of five older Americans taking them. These operate broadly free from the Food and Drug Administration’s oversight, as companies are not required to tell the FDA what’s in the food-drug they’re selling. This means companies are fairly free to make overtly ridiculous claims to shill crap to desperate people with impunity. So it’s major news that on Monday the FDA warned 12 dietary supplement companies that they needed to stop saying their pixie dust cures Alzheimer’s or diabetes or cancer, because that’s actually new. Thus far the FDA has managed to crack down a little on only the more egregious supplements — you know, the kind of supplements where even mentioning how they assist men in their goals will get a perfectly innocent email banned by every reputable spam filter in America, wink wink. No seriously, Numlock will get the spam filter electric chair if I actually say the product, I wish I was joking.

Sheila Kaplan, The New York Times


The food delivery space has been a particularly cutthroat one lately, with various delivery startups gunning for market share under the idea that this will be closer to a winner-take-all ending rather than a wide field of contenders. Grubhub, which also owns Seamless, has seen its estimated market share slipping, down from about half of the market in September 2017 to closer to 40 percent in December 2018. Uber Eats has been on the rise, but in a dark horse sprint DoorDash is now in second position, estimated to be about 25 percent of the market share and up from 15 percent in the early part of 2018. DoorDash, you may recall, is the company that recently made headlines by not paying their labor.

Alison Griswold, Oversharing

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Trading Trading Places

A share of the royalties for the 1983 film Trading Places is up for auction. A producer’s share of the residuals that come from streaming and television broadcasts of the comedy, which starred Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd as commodity traders, now has a winning bid of $74,700. That share was worth $7,988 last year. Remember, if you want to use some of the tricks you picked up from the film in outsmarting your rivals to win this particular trade, I should remind you that it is all extremely illegal what they did.

Ben Foldy, Bloomberg


State lotteries are an enormous cash boost for municipalities, but tend to disproportionately draw money away from poorer citizens and people with serious gambling addictions. All told, Americans spent $72.7 billion on state lotteries in 2016. While plenty of people are in it for the fun of it — I’m the last person to dump on throwing a few dollars at one of those massive jackpots — the down-line effect looks pretty bad when you look at the stats. A 2017 study found that while 2 percent of adults have a gambling problem, the Powerball-esque lotteries had a problem gambling rate of 3.3 percent, instant scratch-offs had a 4.4 percent problem gambling rate and daily games like Keno had a 7.6 percent rate. The reality is that while everyone who plays the lotto isn’t a problem gambler, almost all problem gamblers play the lottery: the study estimated 95 percent of problem gamblers played compared to about two-thirds of the general adult population.

Bryce Covert, Topic

Correction: The original version of this newsletter mistakenly stated that the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative was based out of University of South Carolina, instead of University of Southern California.

The Oscars are in mere weeks! Want to have the inside track on who’s ahead? Check out the awards coverage in the Numlock Awards Supplement, and if you’re just tuning in start here.

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