June 9, 2023

Today's Topics

Hi! This week, the 20th annual Decanter World Wine Awards took place in London, with 236 international experts gathering to drink (and eventually try to judge) a record 18,250 wines from 57 countries. Today we’re exploring:

  • Bad air day: NYC's air quality reached a very unhealthy level.
  • Unscripted: Hollywood strikes are forcing reality TV to the fore.
  • Going under: Corporate bankruptcies hit 13-year highs.
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Purifier panic

Apocalyptic-looking scenes unfolded across New York City and the East Coast this week as blankets of smoke descended from Canadian wildfires. The resulting pollution and worsening air quality could potentially affect over 100 million Americans, sending Google searches for air purifiers surging more than 450% on Thursday compared to the previous day.

At its worst on Wednesday afternoon, NYC recorded the worst air quality of any major city in the world, with the main danger for citizens coming from tiny PM2.5 pollutant particles which can cause a range of health problems, especially for those with pre-existing conditions.

Bad air day

The air quality index from the Environmental Protection Agency revealed that New York City hit a record-high level of 254 on Wednesday, seeing it move well into the "very unhealthy" category. Such severe pollution levels are more commonly associated with megacities like Jakarta or New Delhi, and are exceptionally rare for New York City, where strict emissions regulations have significantly reduced pollution levels.

MLB games have been canceled, schools shut, and airlines forced to delay flights due to low visibility. Canadian authorities have also cautioned that this year's wildfire season could be one of the worst on record — those air purifiers may become an increasingly invaluable investment in the coming months.

Acting out

TV and Hollywood movie writers are into their 6th week of strikes, and actors could soon follow suit. 98% of SAG-AFTRA, the Screen Actors Guild, voted to strike at the end of June if they don’t reach an agreement with streamers, studios, networks, and production houses by the end of the month.

While directors managed to avoid taking action by securing a “truly historic deal” earlier this week, the actors guild, which represents over 160,000 performers, could exacerbate issues for the entertainment industry and content consumers by joining the picket line.

Back to reality

Hollywood actors have not gone on strike against major film and TV studios since 1980 and, while not all of their goals are aligned, they’re bound together with writers on issues like better compensation and assurances on the regulation of AI. With both creative types potentially out at once, an “existential fight” in the industry could be in the cards, with unscripted and reality shows filling up holes in the TV schedule.

That would be bad news for studios, but it wouldn’t exactly be ideal for the viewers watching at home either. According to a recent survey from Morning Consult, the genre is the worst for keeping viewers engaged across the board, with only 25% of US adults preferring to watch with “undivided attention”. Unscripted efforts like cooking and game shows also struggle to keep viewers enthralled, capturing just 32% and 33%, respectively, on the same metric.

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Belly up

286 companies filed for bankruptcy in the US during the first 5 months of 2023, according to data released earlier this week by S&P Global Market Intelligence, the highest figure for the period through May since 2010.

There have been some pretty big names caught up in the wave of bankruptcies so far this year too, with Silicon Valley Bank’s parent company going under following the bank’s crash in March, Bed Bath & Beyond filing in April, and media disruptors Vice going in May, to name but a few.

Going under

There’s always a variety of wide-ranging factors that cause companies to go bust, but some analysts have outlined common reasons that this year has proven particularly difficult to weather for some firms. Rising interest rates and supply chain issues have been picked out, with 37 consumer discretionary businesses — companies that sell non-essential goods — filing in 2023,  making it the hardest-hit sector so far.

The figure for the year so far is more than double the number recorded in 2022, when there were just 138 filings for the same period and 375 for the year in total. In 2010, the last time bankruptcies exceeded this year’s tally, the economy was still recovering from the Great Recession — the figure ended up at 828 by the year's end.

More Data

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Lionel Messi’s move to Inter Miami has sent the club’s ticket prices soaring over 11x on secondary markets.

GM is following in Ford’s tire marks, partnering with Tesla to gain access to 12,000 of the company’s fast chargers next year.


• The best-looking QR codes you’ve seen in your life.

• Drop a pin on the map and receive a poem back.

Off the charts: What piqued everyone's Google searching interests on Monday evening but has since returned to a much less head-turning level? [Answer below].

Answer here.

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