By Walt Hickey
The WWE is in the unique position of somehow being more popular than ever while also seeing the weekly viewership of its two weekly flagship airings go down. Two weeks ago, Monday Night Raw averaged 2.158 million viewers across the broadcast, the lowest non-holiday rating in its history and down from the 5 million Raw was pulling in April 2009. But despite the lower viewership, the promotion is more valuable today than ever: in 2000, the WWE got $28.6 million annually for the whole cable package (both Raw and Smackdown) with millions tuning in, while with a fraction of the tune-in today Raw is set to get $265 million annually from USA and Smackdown will get $205 million from Fox.
Major League Baseball batter is an increasingly perilous occupation, as lots of fast-throwing young talent being put into the reliever position plus a strategic push toward throwing pitches inside means more batters than ever are getting hit by pitches at the plate. Right now, one in every 94 plate appearances ends in a batter getting hit by the pitch, which is somehow worse than last year, which itself was the most since 1900. This season it’s projected 25 percent more batters will get drilled than they did 20 years back. It’s the young relievers who pack heat that are the worst of it: starting pitchers hit batters one out of every 109 plate appearances, while relievers hit them one out of every 78. Pitchers are also aiming for the part of the strike zone nearest the batter more — in 2008, 29 percent of pitches were thrown on the inner part of the plate, a figure now at 32.5 percent of pitches, an additional 25,000 inside pitches per season than a decade back. If you’ll excuse me, I need to print this entire paragraph out and send it to every little league coach I ever had with “I TOLD YOU SO” scrawled maniacally in the margins.
Advertisers, burned by the experience of advertising stuff next to unscreened content on YouTube, are directing their ad buy back towards more traditional TV experiences. A survey of 240 ad buyers on YouTube found that 46 percent spent less on YouTube and more on TV networks’ online properties, compared to just 8 percent who spent more on YouTube and less on network online streaming. The calculus is pretty simple here, if I wanna sell a viewer some detergent, at least I know that Carpool Karaoke isn’t going to devolve into some messy drama where one YouTube star uses a ton of ethnic slurs out of nowhere in the middle of a stream.
Nike is rolling out new shoe sizing app technology designed to work around one of the side effects of having a large percentage of shoe sales move online. Industry wide, the company said 60 percent of people are wearing the wrong shoe size and 27 percent of all shoes purchased online are returned due to a bad fit. The cost of those returns is a massive annoyance for an e-commerce company, and the reality is you can’t get a Brannock device into every online shopper’s hands. What’s a Brannock device you ask? It’s that weird shoe sizing metal implement you find in all shoe stores, and today I learned one company has made it exclusively since 1927 and also it costs $72.50. The company is doing fine and is not threatened by Nike’s shift as their main worry is the collapse of brick-and-mortar, thank you for asking.
Since 1970, there have been 57 fires in Los Angeles that burned more than 5,000 acres, and increasingly L.A. is reconciling its preparations for the new normal of climate-change fueled blazes on a recurring basis. More than 60 percent of new residential development in California since 1990 was in wild-fire prone areas. Los Angeles County is made up of 88 cities, and 39 of those cities are what Cal Fire call “Very High Fire-Hazard Severity Zones.” Cal Fire itself — the forestry and firefighting organization that mobilizes responses to the devastating wildfires — has begun to admit that even its $2.5 billion annual budget can’t beat the Santa Ana winds in the wrong direction. The fires are getting worse, with Cal Fire’s previous planning for four-day wind events hiked up to 14-day plans. In 2018, 1.89 million acres burned in California, up from 602,000 in 2013.
Both New York and New Jersey, despite Democratic-party control and widespread support, have failed to stick the landing when it comes to recreational legalization of marijuana. The Jersey campaign collapsed in late March, and that led to a subsequent series of setbacks in their northern neighbor. There are six weeks left in New York’s legislative session and May 31 is the set deadline in Jersey, but an interesting reality is that of the 10 states that legalized recreational pot, only one, Vermont, did so through legislation rather than a ballot initiative.
Amtrak is investing in the next generation of it’s high(ish)-speed Acela trains, with the newest stock rolling onto the tracks in 2021. The new trains have a top speed of 160 miles per hour, up from the 150 miles per hour of the current fleet, and with track improvements — as if that’ll ever happen — they could hit 186 miles per hour. Their capacity is upped from 305 to 378 thanks to redesigned cars and a shorter power car, and the existing fleet of 20 Acelas will be replaced by the 28 new ones by 2021. The Acela is a massive financial boost for the national rail system: the $318.8 million made from the 3.4 million Acela passengers in 2018 was over 60% of the $524.1 million hauled in by the Northeast Corridor, its profitable line.
Amazon is buying dozens of machines that could eliminate the difficult and physically taxing boxing jobs in its fulfillment centers. The CartonWrap — from Italian firm CMC Srl — packs 600 to 700 boxes per hour, which is about four to five times the rate a human can do, and requires one person to load customer orders. Amazon has added the tech to several warehouses and is planning to install two machines at dozens more. The boxing positions have really high turnover because boxing up multiple orders per minute for 10 hours is, needless to say, physically taxing. The changes will amount to 1,300 cut positions across 55 fulfillment centers. Amazon has an estimated 168 fulfillment centers around the U.S., and at $1 million per machine the company recovers the cost plus operational expenses in under two years.
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