Tagged: Wall Street Journal

Are Craft Beer Sales Really “Tapping Out?”

Earlier this week, a Wall Street Journal article reported on a significant decline in the sale of craft beers—a $143 million drop, resulting in sales of $2.7 billion for the first half of 2017.

Implied in this story is that craft beer bubble, which I have discussed earlier on this site, may finally be bursting:

After years of strong gains, American craft brewers are now bracing for a shakeout. Shipments are falling for many independent brewers stuck in the middle between local niche brands and competitors that were bought by heavyweights such as Anheuser-Busch InBev and Molson Coors.

Earlier this winter, I wrote that we’re experiencing a golden age of craft beers in the United States and that some day, this golden age—as all others must—will end. But the decline reported in this article does not portend the end of the current craft beer golden age.

Craft beers are kind of like coffee in that there are three tiers, if not necessarily three waves as there is with coffee. The tiers of craft breweries are:

  1. The big, legacy players that emerged during the “micro brewing” era, such as Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada that have national distribution. They have been around long enough to have a place at just about every taproom in the US and are well-position to stave off acquisition.
  2. The newer breweries that have either been acquired by a big conglomerate, such as Ballast Point, Lagunitas, and Goose Island, or those that are still independent but around in many regions throughout the country. Some examples of the latter include Dogfish Head, Brooklyn, and New Belgium.
  3. The local nanobreweries that emerged since the end of the last decade—coincidentally around the same time as the last financial crisis—remain available only at the brewery’s taproom and at a few bars and grocery stores in their home region. These are also the breweries that release cans to much celebration. There are too many examples to name, but it seems that just about every town in America has an Irish pub, a Chinese takeout restaurant, and a brewery of this sort. The quality of their beer can vary greatly.

The article’s discussion about the decline in craft beer sales seem to be concentrated in the second tier I named above. Those big names in craft beer have fallen out of favor, either because they were acquired by a conglomerate and have lost their “street cred” or because their beers have lost their edge compared to what the newer, more experimental nanobreweries are producing today.

Personally, I am certainly more interested in trying out new offerings by breweries that might seem more experimental. To return to my comparison of the coffee market, I’m more attracted to what a local coffee shop or well-known roaster has to offer than what I can get at a Starbucks or Peet’s location.

The decline in the overall craft beer market is certainly significant, but it is entirely plausible to attribute that decline to people switching from Sierra Nevada and Goose Island to something that they got at their local brewery’s taproom. In short, it might still be a great time to be a locally oriented craft brewer, just make sure you don’t get too big or don’t stick with the same offerings forever.

It also might help if you consistently make good beer, too.

The Following Film Has Been Modified to Fit

Joe Flint, writing for the Wall Street Journal‘s Digital microsite, exposes cable TV networks that compress programming content, such as when TBS broadcast The Wizard of Oz last November, to fit in more advertisements in the same block of time.

Tinkering with shows to squeeze more advertising dollars out of them has been done before. Cable networks have long made room for ads by shortening the opening credits. Reruns of “Law & Order” on TNT have a 24-second opening, in contrast to the original 1 minute, 45-second opening when it aired on NBC.

But speeding up the actual content is a more subtle tactic TV networks use to achieve a higher volume of ads. TBS also has sped up sitcom reruns of “Seinfeld” and other shows, and sister network TNT has also employed the approach as well. Viacom Inc.’s TV Land has done the same with “Friends” reruns.

A colleague, who forwarded the article earlier today, called the apparently unprecedented practice “scary.”

But is it, really?

First, is this even new? I thought this was already standard practice, especially for movies broadcast on television. I remember watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) on Comedy Central in the 1990s with my roommate Rick. It was a movie we knew well, having seen it dozens of times between the two of us. We had even seen it on 35mm film, paired with Election (1999), at a double-feature at the New Beverly Cinema, in Los Angeles at the end of the Clinton Administration. But with this Comedy Central screening, we could tell something was off.

To confirm our suspicions, Rick fetched his VHS copy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to screen it and compare it to the broadcast version. Going back and forth between the cable net’s feed and the VHS deck, we verified that Comedy Central had indeed sped up the movie. It was most evident when Edward R. Rooney proclaims that, because of kids like Ferris, he “weeps for the future.” The voice of Jeffrey Jones, who played Rooney, was easily an octave higher on the broadcast than it was on the VHS version.1

Jeffrey Jones, playing Edward R. Rooney, in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Edward R. Rooney weeps for the future.

From then on, we noticed this practice on countless other Comedy Central movie broadcasts, too. I guess once you see something like that, you can never unsee it.

Second, I’m guilty of having sped up screenings in class. In a few cases, after a lengthy lecture and class discussion, it was clear that we were going to go over time. To fit the screening, I have played a H.264 file from my Mac using VLC, which has a playback-speed control. I’ve gone as high as 104% but usually keep it at 102% or so. When I’ve sped up a screening, I’ve previewed it to ensure the playback doesn’t appear off, and I’ve only used it on films where pacing or tempo is not a significant element of the filmmaking. I’ve done it for films like Flaming Creatures and Sins of the Fleshapoids, where a viewer would be too preoccupied with horror or laughter, respectively, to notice a 2% increase in speed. However, I would never speed up a screening of a film by Alfred Hitchcock, Stan Brakhage, or Maya Deren. In those cases, the pacing and rhythm are really important dimensions of their filmmaking.

Maya Deren in <em>At Land</em>

Maya Deren, in At Land, can take as much time as she needs in my class.

Finally, is this even a big deal? The whole screening experience—in a classroom or on television—is already compromised. We watch with cheap projectors and television monitors that produce rainbow and soap opera effects. We listen with low-fi sound systems that don’t reproduce a full range of sounds. And, for decades, we have watched films that have been panned, scanned and center-cut to fit the aspect ratio of our TV sets.

It’s not like I’m cutting out scenes.

  1. Disclaimer: I don’t actually know what an octave is.