February 9, 2024

Today's Topics

Hello! Today marks the last day of the Year of the Rabbit, as the next Lunar New Year in the 12-year zodiac cycle starts tomorrow — but what might the Year of the Dragon have in store for China? With any luck, a baby boom. Today we explore:

  • America's finances: Visualizing the federal budget.
  • Attention please: The cost of a Super Bowl ad.
  • Streaming wars: Disney takes a step back.
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The American government’s big pile of IOUs is about to get even bigger.

That was the conclusion of the latest report from the Congressional Budget Office, which forecast this week that the US is on track to add $19 trillion to its national debt by 2034, with payments on that debt totalling some $12 trillion as higher interest rates increase the burden of the nation’s borrowing.

Serious interest

In the latest fiscal year, which ran to the end of September, the federal government raked in more than $4.4 trillion in receipts from individual taxpayers, with nearly half of that sum stemming from individual income taxes ($2.18 trillion). But, as many of us can surely relate to, the government's spending appetite consistently outpaces its income, resulting in a deficit of $1.7 trillion.

The magnitude of the national debt, currently ~$34 trillion in total, means that the government is shelling out nearly $2 billion a day on interest payments (~3% of GDP) just to service the debt. Were the government to somehow magically wipe out its debt — leaving it with no interest to pay — it would have saved a whopping ~$660 billion last year, though that still wouldn't be enough to get the overall federal budget back into the black.

The CBO forecasts have sparked a national conversation about the right level of federal spending, raising questions that beg political answers, rather than definitive economic ones.

7-30-LVIII

The national spotlight will be firmly on Nevada this weekend, as the Chiefs and the 49ers are set to do battle at one of the biggest sporting — and television — events of the year.

But while the athletes have been working hard in the gym, memorizing plays, and getting their mental game in the right place, marketers have been just as busy. Indeed, in an increasingly fragmented modern media landscape, the Super Bowl remains a rare unifier, drawing hundreds of millions of eyeballs simultaneously to a single event. And, getting in front of those eyeballs remains prohibitively expensive — despite TV viewership slipping from its peak a decade ago.

This year, brands are shelling out $7 million for 30 seconds of airtime, more than 165x the $42,000 that the same slot would have set you back in the first Super Bowl in 1967. Even once you adjust for inflation — which would turn that $42k from 1967 into a $383k expense in 2023 — it’s easy to see that Super Bowl ads have become a cultural spectacle in and of themselves, with a massive 25% of viewers planning to focus more on the ads than the actual game.

Attention please

Interestingly, Kantar estimates that the investment is actually worth it, with every $1 spent on a Super Bowl ad reportedly yielding a return of $4.60 — music to the ears of the producers behind the 70 high-budget commercials that will be airing on game day. With an expected surge in female viewership this year, likely due to Taylor Swift's influence, brands such as Dove, L’Oreal, and e.l.f. are gearing up for their moment in the limelight during the breaks.

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Disney-

Netflix has extended its lead as the supreme streaming service by subscribers, with Disney+ reporting the loss of 1.3 million customers in the final quarter of 2023 after adding a $3 price hike onto its ad-free service last October.

Although neither platform is a stranger to raising prices (Netflix also made its 3rd price hike in 4 years last October), Disney’s move came alongside mounting pressure for video-viewing platforms to compete with the world’s biggest streamer.

Disney+ and other major streaming sites including Paramount and Warner Bros Discovery — now the sprawling parent company of Discovery+, legacy HBO, and streaming service Max — are still reconciling losses from acquisitions, expensive content deals, and discounted sign-ups.

While Disney+ is now reaching fewer screens than before, the higher subscription prices did result in narrowing losses by $300m, leaving the streamer “on track” to meet their $7.5bn annualized savings target — and finally reach profitability — by the end of 2024.

What this means: Some have declared the end of the streaming wars, with Netflix the winner. For viewers, expect a continued crackdown on password-sharing, this time by Disney+, as the company looks to get back into growth mode.

More Data

8 years and 700,000 matchsticks later, a Frenchman's 23-foot EiffelTower replica missed a World Record due to a tiny technicality.

• Rumors hint at Apple's next big thing: a foldable phone, as shipments for foldables hit 21 million last year, with projections of 48 million by 2027.

• An organ's 639-year-long composition changed chords this week — its 16th shift since starting in 2001.

• Wilson has released an Airless basketball... which will cost $2,500.

Hi-Viz

• Sakura, sooner: Japanese cherry blossoms are blooming earlier and earlier.

Off the charts: Which company were we charting about below, which has just delivered its first ever annual profit? [Answer below].

Answer here.

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