What in the World—Week of March 1

Are Birkenstocks now luxe?
Birkenstock, the utilitarian though comfortable sandals famously adopted as an anti-fashion statement by ‘60s hippies, has been bought for a reported $4.9 billion by a French equity firm connected to LVMH. The sandal company, which started in Germany in 1774, had revenue of about $883 million in the year ending September 2019. Despite their age and hippie roots, Birkenstocks remain popular in pop culture. “If post-pandemic workday wardrobes remain casual, Birkenstock should also be in a strong position, particularly if it can develop its range of covered shoes alongside sandals,” reports Bloomberg. The new owners will likely target Asia for new growth. “Young Chinese buyers are poised to drive top-end sales over the next five years, and the more premium end of Birkenstock’s offerings could be thought of as accessible luxury.”

How the pandemic slowed Peak TV
“When is (beloved TV show) coming back?” It’s become a common refrain in households across North America, with the pandemic disrupting production schedules and leading to uncommonly long breaks between seasons. Right now, viewers are waiting for a third season of Donald Glover’s Atlanta, another chapter of the Roy family’s internecine squabbling in Succession, and the final season of AMC’s Better Call Saul, which reportedly won’t air until 2022. “The pandemic created a break in the boom time known as Peak TV, a gilded entertainment age of limitless home-viewing options ushered in by deep-pocketed tech companies and cable networks desperate to keep up,” writes The New York Times. According to the Times, the number of premieres of American scripted shows “nose-dived” in the second half of 2020, falling 28% from 2019. In some cases they’re been replaced by cheap and easy-to-produce reality shows like Celebrity Wheel of Fortune and The Price is Right at Night. That trend is likely to continue for several months. Soon the pandemic joke “I finished Netflix” might contain a grain of truth.

Bringing old photos to life using AI
Genealogy service MyHeritage became a Twitter sensation over the weekend as people discovered its new tool Deep Nostalgia, which can bring photos to life. According to The Guardian, Deep Nostalgia uses artificial intelligence to animate photos uploaded to its system. Not surprisingly, people flocked to the free trial to animate photos of deceased relatives and historical figures. Eventually, of course, it was discovered by Twitter’s absurdist wing—leading to uploads of everything from videogame covers, to the infamous bust of soccer star Ronaldo. Deep Nostalgia’s ability to eerily bring the photos to life also once again raised concerns about “deepfakes,” with MyHeritage noting that it didn’t’ include audio in the technology to prevent it from being abused.

Facebook promotes Personalized Ads in new campaign
Facebook has launched a U.S. ad campaign promoting the value of targeted ads, arguing that they can help small businesses find customers. “Good ideas deserve to be found. Personalized Ads help you find them,” said one ad in the campaign. According to The Wall Street Journal, the campaign comes as Apple prepares to implement a new policy requiring many apps to ask users if they want their web behaviour to be tracked for the purpose of targeted advertising. While Facebook said the campaign wasn’t created in response, it does contend that Apple’s new policy will make it harder for small businesses to reach customers with targeted ads. A spokesperson told the WSJ that the social media giant “simply does not agree with this approach.” Facebook plans to accompany the new Apple prompts with a screen describing how it uses data to personalize users’ experience and asking permission to use data collected from third-party websites and apps.

Collector spends $6.6 million on ‘non-fungible token’ artwork
A piece of digital artwork sold for $6.6 million last week, another example of the fast-growing consumer trend of blockchain-backed digital collectibles. The video, created by digital artist Beeple, shows a giant Donald Trump collapsed on the ground covered in slogans. While the art can be found online, the file bought by Miami-based art collector Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile is authenticated as the original file using blockchain. “It’s a new type of digital asset—known as a non-fungible token (NFT)—that has exploded in popularity during the pandemic as enthusiasts and investors scramble to spend enormous sums of money on items that only exist online,” reports Reuters. “You can go in the Louvre and take a picture of the Mona Lisa and you can have it there, but it doesn’t have any value because it doesn’t have the provenance or the history of the work,” said Rodriguez-Fraile. The same thinking explains the recent explosion in the sale of sports highlights, including the NBA’s Top Shot collectibles. One collector recently spent $208,000 for a video of a LeBron James dunk.


David Brown