To meet or not to meet?
After going virtual last year, the Consumer Electronics Show, a mega-conference in Las Vegas that’s the traditional launchpad for many of the tech industry’s latest gadgets, is trying to make a comeback. CES kicks off today, with an estimated 2,200 exhibitors set to show up in person. But with the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus surging, scores of major tech companies are still presenting mostly virtually.
It’s a sign that decisions to hold big in-person events at this phase of the pandemic remain far from clear-cut. Yet the organizers of CES — like those of the Winter Olympics and the Australian Open, which are set to begin soon — have decided it’s time to gather in person again.
CES organizers say that the show must go on. In an opinion piece in The Las Vegas Review-Journal, Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Technology Association argued that canceling CES would “hurt thousands of smaller companies, entrepreneurs and innovators” who depend on the show to launch their products. (The conference is also important for Las Vegas, which reaped an estimated $291 million from spending tied to it in 2020.) Shapiro noted that the conference had embraced Covid-19 protections like requiring attendees to be fully vaccinated and masked while on the show floor, and that testing was readily available.
But many large companies have chosen to attend remotely, including Amazon, AMD, AT&T, General Motors, Google, Intel, Lenovo, Meta, Nvidia, Pinterest, T-Mobile and Twitter. That will leave “big gaps on the show floor,” Shapiro said. And CES will end a day early, in what the organizers said was a concession to safety.
Other big events are delaying their return to in-person gatherings. Organizers of the Grammys are reportedly considering delaying this month’s music awards show, while the World Economic Forum postponed its annual confab in Davos, Switzerland, which was set to take place this month.
Is it safe to hold live in-person events again? Omicron cases appear to be less severe than cases from previous variants, and vaccines and new treatments are becoming available. More governments are also edging toward managing, not containing, the coronavirus, and are increasingly reluctant to reimpose restrictions. That could mean that a return to regular mass gatherings in some places may not be far-off.
More pandemic news:
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Toyota dethrones General Motors as America’s largest car seller. The Japanese automaker became the first foreign manufacturer to claim that title, selling 2.3 million vehicles last year compared with G.M.’s 2.2 million. Toyota has been less affected by supply-chain shortages than its Detroit rivals.
New York City officials paint a dire economic picture. The city’s Independent Budget Office warned that New York’s economic recovery could trail the U.S. average for years, hurt by its tourism and hospitality industries’ struggles and the rise of remote and hybrid work. But one part of the New York economy that isn’t suffering: Manhattan property sales.
OPEC is still falling short of its production goals. While the oil-producing cartel and its allies agreed yesterday to raise their output by 400,000 barrels a day, analysts note that some members of the group are still behind previous targets. That may irritate the Biden administration, which has urged more production to reduce oil prices.
Chinese banks cut back on loans. They are stocking up on financial instruments that count as loans to meet government-imposed quotas rather than actually lending money, over fears that China’s slowing economy makes defaults more likely.
Sony may join the electric car race. The company said it was forming a new division to “explore” entering the market, sending its shares up. But investors wonder whether Sony would outsource the manufacturing of electric vehicles, or spend billions trying to become the next Tesla.
The pitch for Topps
Yesterday, Fanatics, the fast-growing collectibles company, bought Topps’s sports card business for just over $500 million. The takeover comes months after Fanatics nearly knocked Topps out of the baseball-card game, which thwarted Topps’s plan to go public via SPAC at a $1.3 billion valuation. So who came out on top? DealBook dives into the deal’s numbers …
The back story: In 2007, the investment firm Tornante, run by the former Disney C.E.O. Michael Eisner, and the private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners acquired Topps for $385 million. Topps agreed to a deal to merge with a SPAC in April, but the plan fell apart in August when Fanatics won the licensing rights to make Major League Baseball cards, which Topps had held for 70 years. (Fanatics offered M.L.B. and the players’ union a 20-year licensing deal, worth far more than any previous contract.) The SPAC deal was then called off, and Topps began discussing selling its card business to Fanatics a month later.
Fanatics is gobbling up the sports card industry. Soon after winning the M.L.B. rights, Fanatics struck licensing deals with other leagues. Its card business raised $350 million in September at a $10 billion valuation. It has big plans — and deep pockets — and is riding high as the sports collectibles industry enjoys a renaissance.
Topps is getting out while the going is good. It is selling its card business five years before its M.L.B. contract runs out. At more than $500 million, the deal is worth about three times as much as the equity that Tornante and Madison Dearborn put into the 2007 deal. Topps’s remaining candy and gift card business, which brought in a third of the company’s sales last year and is being rebranded as Bazooka, was recently valued at just over $300 million, DealBook hears. That puts the total value of Topps at almost (but not quite) the $1.3 billion it was set to get in its SPAC transaction, as blank-check deals have cooled considerably in recent months.
“People just have no sense of how bad this problem is on podcasts.”
— Valerie Wirtschafter, a senior data analyst at Brookings who co-wrote a report on the extent to which the medium has spread misinformation about voter fraud.
Quentin Tarantino’s legal thriller
When Quentin Tarantino and the studio Miramax agreed on the rights to “Pulp Fiction” in the early 1990s, cryptocurrency didn’t exist. Now Tarantino is courting controversy — with a crypto twist — over ownership of the cult movie’s script that could set a legal precedent for intellectual property rights.
Today, the director announced auctions of nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, associated with his original handwritten screenplay, despite a pending lawsuit by Miramax.
A Guide to Cryptocurrency
A glossary. Cryptocurrencies have gone from a curiosity to a viable investment, making them almost impossible to ignore. If you are struggling with the terminology, let us help:
Tarantino has been thwarted before. In November, after he announced plans for an auction, Miramax sued, claiming breach of contract and various intellectual property violations. In December, the director’s lawyers denied the accusations, but the sales did not proceed. A hearing to schedule the lawsuit’s next steps is set for February. Tarantino’s latest plans to sell the NFTs this month could prompt Miramax to demand an emergency block of the auctions.
What are NFTs, exactly? NFTs are chunks of code associated with images, sound or video files, recorded on the blockchain — think of them as digital certificates of authenticity. Miramax’s lawyers argue that NFTs are unique (“nonfungible” is in the name, after all). Tarantino’s team argues that he is merely reproducing copies of his original script, a right he reserved.
How these tokens compare with old forms of creative expression is unclear. “Someone could mint hundreds or thousands of unique NFTs linked to the same creative work, kind of like printing many copies of a book,” said Frank Gerratana, an intellectual property expert at Mintz in Boston. In that sense, although each NFT has its own unique identifier on a blockchain, they may not be considered distinct. This question is likely to come up again, Gerratana said, given growing interest in crypto. Whoever wins this fight may forever mark the law.
It’s quitting time
Americans are quitting their jobs at the highest rate in decades, according to data released yesterday. More than 4.5 million people voluntarily left their jobs in November, the most since the government began keeping track.
That can be good news. Workers tend to leave their jobs when they have another opportunity lined up, or when they believe their chances of being rehired are good. But the current rate of quitting is even higher now than in previous periods of fast economic growth. That raises the question of whether the economy is stronger than it looks, or if something else is driving workers to walk.
The phenomenon is not universal. Lower-paid workers, and those in industries most affected by the pandemic, are quitting at a much higher rate than others. That suggests that quitting isn’t tied just to a strong recovery, but also to a pandemic-driven shift for lower-income workers, who after years of being left out can demand higher wages and better conditions.
“Quits are happening in the most unlikely categories based on who has been winners in this economy in the past,” said Heidi Shierholz, the president of the Economic Policy Institute and a former chief economist at the Labor Department.
Job openings remain high, but some unemployed workers are still struggling to find jobs. As of November, the average unemployed worker had to search for nearly 13 weeks to land a new job. That was down from nearly 20 weeks in June, but still higher than the nine weeks it was taking when the quitting rate hit its last high, in mid-2019. This, along with the difficulty that employers report in filling openings, “underscores the strange, contradictory moment facing the U.S. economy after two years of pandemic-induced disruptions,” The Times’s Ben Casselman writes.
THE SPEED READ
The private equity giant TPG is seeking a valuation of up to $9.5 billion as it begins pitching its I.P.O. to investors. (WSJ)
OpenSea, a marketplace for NFTs, raised money from investors like Coatue at a $13.3 billion valuation. And sales of Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs have surpassed $1 billion. (NYT, Insider)
The media investment firm run by the former Disney executives Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs has bought a stake in the entertainment company of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. (Bloomberg)
Amazon and Google are urging their customers to try to water down tough antitrust measures in Washington. (Politico)
California investigators blamed PG&E equipment for starting the disastrous Dixie fire last year, and referred the matter to prosecutors. (NYT)
“How Biogen Fumbled Aduhelm, Its Once-Promising Alzheimer’s Drug” (WSJ)
Best of the rest
“Shoplifting Is Scaring Retailers. Wall Street Should Worry Too” (Bloomberg Opinion)
Ben Smith is stepping down as The Times’s media columnist to found a new media start-up with Justin Smith, the outgoing C.E.O. of Bloomberg Media. (NYT)
Start-up founders are joining group retreats to learn how to handle their emotions. (Protocol)
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