Big Tech tries to keep things in check


March 17, 2020

Bummed about that St. Patrick’s Day shindig getting canceled? Dropkick Murphys have you covered. For the 1st time in 24 years, the Massachusetts punks decided not to play over the holiday weekend — to a live audience, anyway. This year, they’ll stream their show to the world on social media. The show starts at 7pm ET tonight.

The Coronavirus Economy

How tech companies are ramping up efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic

As the markets plunged again on Monday and the government warned people to avoid gathering in groups of 10+, big tech companies were ramping up their efforts to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

Those efforts hit a few speed bumps. Here’s a quick recap.

Let’s start in Google’s corner

Verily, the life-sciences division of Alphabet (Google’s parent company), launched a much-talked-about site for coronavirus screening and information, focused on 2 counties in the San Francisco Bay area.

The website’s launch was rocky from the beginning. Last Friday, President Trump ignited confusion by vastly overselling a Google site focused on the virus.

A Verily portal did go live on Sunday evening, but it quickly ran into problems, and by Monday it said it could no longer schedule new appointments. Google’s CEO said a separate national site, with best practices and other resources, would go live Monday night, but the company ended up delaying it.

Meanwhile, over at Planet YouTube…

… Google said it would increase its reliance on automated systems to moderate content (the work is typically done by thousands of humans).

The company warned that users could see “increased video removals, including some videos that may not violate policies.”

And finally, at the White House

A task force of Silicon Valley’s tech giants is accelerating efforts to solve problems caused by the virus. Forty-five people took part in a meeting with White House officials, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Elsewhere:

  • OpenAI’s Sam Altman is looking for virus-related startups to fund.
  • Amazon is hiring 100k more workers to support booming demand for deliveries.
  • Microsoft launched a coronavirus tracker.
  • Makeup and perfume factories are pivoting to hand sanitizer.
  • Alibaba’s founder is sending test kits and masks to the US.
  • 24k coronavirus-related research papers now reside in 1 place.
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Market Explainer

Here’s what you need to know about ‘circuit breakers’

Yesterday, America’s 3 major stock indexes — the S&P 500, the Dow Jones, and the Nasdaq — halted stock trading for 15 minutes after indexes dropped ~7% in early trading.

It was the 3rd time in a week that exchanges triggered so-called circuit breakers, but traders disagreed about whether they’re helping or hurting.

Circuit breakers are supposed to stop sell-offs

They were created after the 1987 stock-market crash — when markets slid 22.6% in a single day — to prevent panic-selling by halting trading during steep swings.

Under current rules, circuit breaker have 3 levels:

  • Level 1 = After a 7% drop from the previous day’s close, trading halts for 15 minutes
  • Level 2 = After a 13% drop, trading halts for 15 minutes
  • Level 3 = After a 20% drop, trading halts for the rest of the day (The trading day runs from 9:30am to 4:00pm ET.)

To date, there have never been Level 2 or Level 3 circuit breakers.

And on top of market-wide breakers, individual stocks have them, too. They go into effect when single stock prices swing 5% in 5 minutes.

Last Thursday, 781 stocks halted trading — more than the entire months of January and February combined.

Traders disagree on whether circuit breakers are worth it

Proponents say circuit breakers stabilize markets by calming investors.

But opponents argue they can cause more chaos by scaring investors at the start of the day. (In 2016 Chinese exchange regulators suspended a circuit breaker when it worsened market losses).

The only thing traders agreed on? Circuit breakers are great for snack breaks. One circuit-breaker critic told The Wall Street Journal he used last Thursday’s 15-minute hiatus to drink a much-needed vegan smoothie.

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Block-Busted

For movie theaters, the pandemic means the credits are rolling

Many major cities across America have ordered movie theaters and other gathering places to shut down in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, any theaters that might remain open are seeing an enormous drop in customers.

Domestic ticket sales totaled ~$55.3m this past weekend. That’s a 44% drop from the previous period, and the worst weekend at the box office in at least 2 decades. The top film was “Onward,” which brought in ~$10.5m in the US and Canada — a 73% decline from its first weekend.

Keep your distance at the box office

There are ~6k indoor movie theaters across the US, and it took awhile for big chains to start pulling the curtains on them.

For example: The Star Tribune reported Monday that some Minnesota outposts of AMC (one of the country’s 2 largest chains) were still open, but sharply cutting capacity and practicing social distancing.

What does social distancing look like at the movies? Way more than keeping that giant bucket o’ 🍿 to yourself. Some theaters were selling seats in every other row.

Monday evening, Regal, the country’s other major chain, announced it was closing all locations “until further notice,“ starting today.

Will moviegoers return for the sequel?

The crash is forcing theater owners to reckon with an existential threat posed by streaming services. Universal Pictures is breaking the mold by releasing movies to watch at home while they’re still in theaters.

A more immediate problem: Even if a few theaters stay open, they may run out of new flicks. The release dates of several big pictures have been pushed back. One industry veteran told Deadline we may see a revival of Oscar-nominated films or classics from years past.

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Snippets

Call it a Snippets takeover: Since most headlines on Monday were all about the pandemic, we’re presenting a careful curation of top-tier tweets, sure to brighten your day.

😳 An epic thread: “As a public service in these stressful times I’d like to offer, as a palate cleanser, the most embarrassing moment of my life.”

🐧 Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is closed to visitors. Wellington the penguin went on a field trip, and the results were adorable.

⛸ “This made me laugh an unreasonable amount,” said a reader. Eat your hearts out, Olympic curlers.

🐴 Listen to Lulu, Whiskey, and our friend Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stay home.

🇺🇸 Essential tips on working from home, straight from our Bobby Durben (you thought you’ve heard ’em all, but stay ’til the end).

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