Numlock News: June 2, 2021 • Beef, Books, Crooks

By Walt Hickey

CBS

A new report from the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations alleges that ViacomCBS and its predecessor companies have, since 2002, avoided paying $3.96 billion in U.S. corporate income taxes by routing IP and profits through subsidiaries in Barbados, the Bahamas, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Britain. Essentially, the $30 billion the company has made through its film and television franchise royalties overseas has gone untaxed in the U.S., according to the report. That kind of revenue is an increasingly important chunk of the business in the age of streaming, with 24 percent of yearly sales derived from licensing at Viacom since 2018. The gist of the hustle is simple: set up a Dutch company, transfer the foreign licensing rights to big franchises to that shingle, and suck all the global revenues back into that untaxed company through licensing fees.

Edmund Lee, The New York Times

Arbitration

Amazon has given up on a mandatory arbitration clause in agreements with customers and employees after the company was flooded with over 75,000 individual arbitration requests from users of the Echo line of products. Companies like arbitration because the costs are manageable: litigation in the courts can be incredibly expensive, but arbitration on friendly turf doesn’t usually go that way, with measured, finite, predictable costs, often $100 to $2,000 to file. The problem with that, naturally, is when there are tens of thousands of measured, predictable costs that nevertheless cost tens of millions of dollars to hear out as prescribed in those terms of service that Amazon themselves wrote, that can really add up.

Sara Randazzo, The Wall Street Journal

Beef

JBS SA is the largest producer of meat in the U.S., with a 23 percent market share of American beef, and has recently fallen victim to a cyberattack. JBS hasn’t released the details of what precisely went down, but it led to halted processing at the five biggest plants the company has in the United States, which in the aggregate handle 22,500 cattle per day. The cyber criminals have, in a single weekend, taken out a fifth of American beef production, as well as seeing one of Canada’s largest plants idled for a second day, with some sites in Australia affected as well. Backup servers were unaffected, and the company is working to restore systems as soon as possible.

Fabiana Batista, Michael Hirtzer and Elizabeth Elkin, Bloomberg

Ad-Supported

A new survey found that 49 percent of adults would prefer an ad-supported, but cheaper version of a streaming platform compared to an ad-free but slightly more expensive version. Meanwhile, 22 percent were able to answer the question correctly, and realized that time is the only thing that money cannot buy, said they would prefer the latter. Millennials were the ones who answered the question the least wrong, with a record high of 31 percent of the generation agreeing an ad-free but slightly higher priced offering was preferable to the alternative, compared to 26 percent of Gen Z, 19 percent of Gen X and 14 percent of Boomers.

Sarah Shevenock, Morning Consult

Audiobooks

Audiobooks, or as I like to call them, “highly researched podcast miniseries that cost money but rarely flop the landing,” saw sales rise 12 percent in 2020 according to the Audio Publishers Association. The field faced some headwinds given that 43 percent of listeners most often did so in a car in 2019. As commutes evaporated in 2020 that fell to 30 percent, but people still had a strong demand for audiobooks. All told, audiobook sales at the 27 companies that report figures to the APA hit $1.3 billion. Output in 2020 hit 71,000 titles, up 39 percent over 2019, with the largest categories being mysteries, thrillers and suspense.

Jim Milliot, Publishers Weekly

Home

Home-court advantage evaporated in last year’s NBA playoffs, which was understandable given that nobody played at home — they were in a bubble. Now that teams are back at home arenas, one would expect that some sort of home-court edge would emerge again, but not yet: through the first 32 playoff games so far, home teams are now 16-16. From the 1983-84 season to the 2018-19 season, the home playoff team won 65 percent of the time. Looking at the slightly more robust sample size in point differential, the same pattern holds: usually home teams win playoff games by four to five points, but the average is down to 0.9 points, which is lower even than the bubble playoffs, when it was one point.

Zach Kram, The Ringer

Cheating

Earlier this year authorities in China busted up a company that developed and sold cheats to popular mobile games like PUBG Mobile, arresting two people said to be salesmen for the company in January following 10 other people being arrested last year for hawking cheats to eager buyers. Authorities say the organization — named Chicken Drumstick by authorities and Cheat Ninja by former developers — made $77 million from selling cheats, a figure verified by people who worked at the firm but were not arrested in the crackdown. An issue is they simply got too popular, and began to attract the ire of Tencent, which was willing to work with authorities to take out a significant supplier of cheats on its platform. Cheat Ninja charged $10 to $15 per month to subscribe to the cheats, and when shut down a former developer said they had about 600,000 monthly active users.

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, Motherboard

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