Numlock News: March 18, 2020 • Zoom, Potatoes, Trolls World Tour

By Walt Hickey

Universal

Universal Pictures announced they plan to simultaneously release films via on-demand services at the same time they are released in cinemas that are open during the ongoing pandemic. Right now cinemas in at least 32 markets are entirely shut down and are partially shut down in a further 15. Some titles already in theaters will hit streaming as soon as this weekend, such as The Hunt, which features Hilary Swank, and The Invisible Man starring Elizabeth Moss. Most significantly is Trolls World Tour slated for April 10, an upcoming Dreamworks animated family film starring Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, Griffin McElroy and Anna Kendrick. The brand new theatrical releases will reportedly be available for a 48-hour rental period for $19.99 in the U.S. and an equivalent price internationally.

Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter

Zoomers

The Teens have done it yet again, adapting a drab work teleconferencing service into the hot new social network of the younger generation. Zoom Video Communications, which is being adapted by universities around the world to facilitate class participation and companies to ensure continuity of business, is increasingly seen by Gen Z as a platform on which to gather, date, party, and interact outside of their confinements. On Sunday alone, 600,000 people downloaded Zoom, and while the rest of the market is tanking, the company has surged to a $29 billion valuation, which is more than several major airlines. Because they’re vastly funnier than the rest of us, the joke now is that everyone goes to the same Zoom University, just with vastly different price tags. The kids remain alright.

Taylor Lorenz, Erin Griffith and Mike Isaac, The New York Times

Boil Em, Mash Em, Stick Em In A Stew

Gangwon is basically the Idaho of South Korea, known to the rest of the country for their ample production of potatoes. Thanks to restaurant closures and trade slowdowns, demand has slumped, and that has left Gangwon with 11,000 tons of potatoes from last year’s harvest at risk of rotting away in storage unless they reach consumers before April. The provincial governor put out a call on Twitter on March 11, literally offering 10 kilograms of potatoes for ₩5000, or about $4. The shipping is handled by the province, the site can move about 8,000 boxes of potatoes a day, and they’re down to 7,400 tons of potatoes.

Suhyoon Lee, Quartz

Trade

Chad owes Angola $100 million, but is short on cash. An alternative arrangement has been worked out though: Chad’s excellent at livestock farming, and has about 94 million head of cattle, with something like 30 percent of the country’s exports being livestock. Angola is financially okay — it’s got some oil — but after a 27 year civil war and regular droughts, lots of the country’s animals are dying, destabilizing it. So they worked out a deal: Chad agreed to ship Angola 75,000 cattle over 10 years, valuing the animals at $1,333 per head, to clear the debt. Chad’s sent 1,000 cows as an initial payment, and will send another 3,500 later this month, according to Angola’s state-run newspaper.

BBC

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Groceries

Listen, it’s been a weird week for the grocery business. To say that “food spending patterns changed last week” is sort of like saying “Peter Parker got a bug bite.” The whole paradigm changed. A Barclays analyst estimates that between $61 billion and $118 billion in food sales will shift from restaurants to at-home during the second quarter of 2020. That would translate into an estimated sales jump for grocery stores of 32 percent to 62 percent for the quarter, though obviously it would come at the expense of a restaurant industry that will probably be unrecognizable on the other side of it.

Jon Springer, Winsight Grocery Business

Nautical Nonsense

In August 2018, a company proposed the first industrial-scale harvest of kelp from Scotland, which is just lousy with the underwater flora. The kelp would make replacements for plastic, but it still has provoked a tense debate over how to handle the ecosystem. Kelp is critical in environments, providing habitat and food to many species of fish, including several commercially important ones. Norway invented a method of dredging kelp that is purported to save younger kelp and only extract the mature kelp, pulling it out by its roots with a comb effectively. The whole of Scotland’s waters has an estimated 20 million tonnes of hyperborea kelp, and Marine Biopolymers wanted to harvest 125,700 tonnes of it over the course of seven years, about 0.6 percent of the kelp by area. The company argues that’s less than a rough storm would dislodge annually, but conservationists, tourism and fishing interests in the area argue it could have a seriously negative impact on the ecosystem, with some areas seeing 15 percent of their kelp removed.

Cathleen O’Grady, Hakai Magazine

Prescriptions

A GoodRx analysis of thousands of Medicare Part D plans from 2010 to 2019 found that the percentage of available drugs covered by the typical plan dropped significantly over the period, from 73 percent of available prescriptions to just 56 percent. It’s actually possible that private plans — which don’t have requirements that they cover all cancer drugs — are significantly worse. The reason the numbers are falling is due to pharmacy benefit managers, those mysterious middlemen, the Macavity of Medication, negotiating with manufacturers on behalf of insurers. GoodRx also found that 42 percent of drugs covered as of 2019 still also had further restrictions on reimbursement, like forcing patients to try other cheaper drugs before moving on to that which they were prescribed.

Sydney Lupkin, NPR

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