Numlock News: February 25, 2021 • Barbie, Red Carpet, Bill Nye The Science Guy
By Walt Hickey
Let’s Go Party
Mattel’s sales of Barbie hit $1.35 billion in 2020, the doll brand’s best sales growth in two decades, and a steep rise from the $950 million the brand hauled in during 2017. It’s a turnaround for a brand that was in dire straits recently, suffering from stiff new competition in the doll business and from a reputation for unrealistic standards of beauty for kids. Both of those things are still pretty much there, but the Barbie line has spent the past several years developing more inclusive dolls in the Barbie line with 22 skin tones, 94 hair colors, 13 eye colors and five body types — a line that Mattel says is among its best-performing.
We’re now in the best season of all, awards season, and the traditional infrastructure that exists to support the season is suffering due to changes in how award shows are happening. Not the least of which is the total lack of red carpets, which is jeopardizing the red carpet industry, which in fact exists. Typically, the company Red Carpet Systems will supply 150 events with a going rate of $7,000 for a 35-foot setup. This year, with the virtual season, the company is poised to lose 30 percent of its income.
The average number of writers on a No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 song in 2020 was 5.5 songwriters, up from 2.1 writers in 1990. Indeed, some of this is because there are more cooks in the kitchen — sometimes a performer or writer writes a song, and then sends it out to a group of producers to punch it up and bring it home bake-off style — but a dirty little secret these days is that increasingly songwriting credits are going to producers or artists who did not in fact write the tune. About 15 cents of every streaming dollar in the U.S. goes to songwriters and publishers, with 55 cents going to the owner of the master recording and 30 cents to the streaming service. With more people hitching onto that songwriting credit, the actual money owed to the songwriters is diluted.
The Philippines has limited the number of medical professionals who can leave the country to work elsewhere at 5,000 per year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Overall, lots of nurses from the nation work abroad: in 2019, 17,000 Filipino nurses signed contracts to work overseas, and annually the millions of Filipinos who work abroad send $30 billion a year home in remittances. Now, the government of the Philippines is trying to use that trained and ready workforce to its advantage in obtaining vaccines, offering to lift the cap for Britain and Germany in exchange for vaccines from the countries. Britain has ordered over 400 million vaccine doses — six times its population — and the Philippines wants to obtain 148 million doses. The U.K has indicated it doesn’t plan on a deal, but the Germans have not yet made any statements on the topic.
Bill Nye The Lawsuit Guy
Disney is catching heat for treating the revenue it receives from streaming services for its older library shows like it’s home video revenue, a choice that has the perk of subtracting an 80 percent royalty to its in-house distributor to cover the costs of distribution. Bill Nye, who made Bill Nye the Science Guy, sued Disney in 2017 challenging the practice. Some attorneys circling the issue argue Disney’s approach is out of step with how most studios account for it, with rival shops counting streaming and download revenue as going to “gross receipts” in the event of older contracts inked before streaming was a thing and “home video” meant cassettes. Earlier this month a judge ruled in Disney’s favor, and if the ruling stands, the Mouse’s accounting practice could become industry standard, a blow to creators and a huge gain for the companies who hold the rights.
A new study out of China Agricultural University analyzed the biodiversity of plant species in 199 family graveyards in Hebei province wheat fields and compared them to 125 randomly selected non-burial plots in wheat fields. The graveyards were home to a total of 81 native plant species, considerably higher than the 34 species found in non-burial plots. The smallest graveyard was home to 24 plant species, and the cemeteries were hosts to all sorts of resources for pollinators. That cemeteries and graveplots are undisturbed and host all sorts of new life is a phenomenon seen around the world, from a 2015 discovery of rare orchids across Turkish cemeteries to Ukrainian burial mounds hosting the last remnants of steppe grasslands in Europe. A recent study in Queens carried out by me also found that the large cemetery near La Guardia Airport is host to fields of a plant called “grass,” flora otherwise on the brink of extinction in New York City.
While the pandemic relief bill manages to contain $30 billion for public transit agencies, $15 billion for airline workers, $8 billion for airports and $1.5 billion for Amtrak, notably left off are motorcoaches, which quietly provide an enormous volume of transportation for millions. The industry is composed of 3,000 carriers that pulled in $15.4 billion a year moving 575 million passengers annually, and has been utterly crushed by the pandemic. About 83 percent of the 88,800 full-time busing employees are unemployed, and while there are a few giants in the business, most of those 3,000 companies are small mom-and-pops, as many as 800 of which folded last year. In December, bookings for bus travel were 22 to 25 percent of 2019 levels according to a new report from DePaul University, and the DC-New York-Boston route — one I basically lived on for several years — finished 2020 with 16 percent of bookings compared to 2019.
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