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The 2-12 Jacksonville Jaguars host the 2-12 Tennessee Titans Thursday night, ending this season’s sad slate of Thursday night games with the saddest game of all. But this awful matchup still matters. The top pick of the 2015 NFL draft is in play.

This week, we added each team’s chances of getting the No. 1 overall pick to our weekly playoff implication interactives. In 50,000 simulations, just Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Oakland, Jacksonville and Washington managed to clinch the No. 1 overall pick at least once (the New York Jets blew their chances with last week’s win). The Buccaneers are your clubhouse leader, getting the pick in 54.8 percent of simulations, while the Titans are second at 25 percent.

The size of that gap is a little misleading. The Buccaneers don’t control their own destiny, and the loser of Tennessee at Jacksonville will be nipping at their heels:

rfb-datalab-toppick

The game also affects a much weirder scenario. If two teams from different conferences finish with the same record and strength of schedule, the pick will be decided by coin flip. These flips aren’t so uncommon, but they’ve never decided who gets the No. 1 overall. Before Thursday’s game, there is a 2 percent chance the top pick will be decided by a Tennessee vs. Tampa Bay coin flip. If the Titans lose, that figure bumps up a bit to 3.2 percent.

But which team would actually keep the pick? The presumed top player of the 2015 draft is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. None of the teams in contention saw impressive QB play in 2014: Josh McCown is old, Zach Mettenberger is shorn, Blake Bortles is bad and Derek Carr is dinky. Washington is just a mess, but they’re pretty much out of the running.

Jacksonville and Oakland are the most likely to trade the first pick, as Bortles and Carr have likely done enough in their rookie seasons to warrant a second look. Tennessee and Tampa Bay would be much more likely to take Mariota. This means the St. Louis Rams – or even the Philadelphia Eagles – could be keeping an eye on an otherwise terrible Thursday night game, crossing their fingers for a Jacksonville loss.

Mike Beuoy contributed analysis.

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Stephen Colbert’s run on “The Colbert Report” ends Thursday night, capping a nine-year run of nearly 1,450 episodes. Colbert is bound for a larger stage, grabbing the “Late Show” spot on CBS. Back when this was announced, I looked into why this was a great plan for everyone involved (well, maybe expect for Comedy Central).

GUEST APPEARANCES
Andrew Sullivan 9
Neil deGrasse Tyson 8
Mike Huckabee 7
Chris Matthews 6
Dan Savage 6
Jonathan Alter 6
Ken Burns 6
Paul Krugman 6
Tom Brokaw 6
Arianna Huffington 6
Doris Kearns Goodwin 6
Jeffrey Toobin 6
Jim Cramer 6
Malcolm Gladwell 6
Trevor Potter 6

In his time, the former improv comic has interviewed an array of guests in fields such as politics, the media and the arts. But who have been Colbert’s go-to guests? I pulled the data from Wikipedia’s comprehensive list of episodes and guests. I doubt it’s perfect, but at left are the guests with the most appearances.

It looks like Andrew Sullivan, founding editor of The Dish, takes the crown. My boss, Nate Silver, clocks in at three appearances, tying with 37 others. Here’s a gif from his final appearance that I refuse to let him live down.

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Welcome to the third edition of Significant Digits, a daily digest of the telling numbers tucked inside the news. We’re experimenting with it, so let us know what you think.

1 percent of iPhones

That’s the Russian share of iPhones sold worldwide in 2013, 1.57 million of 153.4 million total. It’s not much overall, but currency fluctuations prompted Apple to suspend online sales in Russia. [Wired]


6.6 times the median

The median net worth of upper-income families is 6.6 times greater than the median wealth of middle-income families. That’s the widest gap in 30 years. [Pew Research Center]


$35 per month

AMC theaters — seemingly inspired by Netflix, Hulu Plus and The Olive Garden — is testing a subscription service called MoviePass. It will allow people who pay $35 per month to see one movie per day. If it’s similar to HBO Go at all, I plan to use my roommate’s ex-girlfriend’s parents’ MoviePass for the foreseeable future. [Denver Post]


93 percent discount

Nine works of art stolen six years ago were recovered by the LAPD. Despite the art being worth about $10 million, the person who had it was trying to sell it for $700,000. That’s a bargain that should stoke any serious collector’s FOMO. [Los Angeles Times]


37,924 wannabe lawyers

Law school enrollment has sunk to its lowest total since 1973. There are 37,924 full- and part-time law students starting classes in 2014, a 30 percent drop from the 52,488 enrollees in 2010. [The New York Times]


5 million kids

UNICEF estimates that 5 million children between the ages of 3 and 17 are not in school as a result of Ebola. [Time Magazine]


$75 million settlement

A federal judge rejected a $75 million class-action settlement for NCAA athletes who suffer from debilitating effects of head injuries. Both sides will now have to find new terms they can agree upon that will also satisfy the judge. [Associated Press]


100 million cups of coffee per year

Royal Dutch Shell sold 100 million cups of joe at its gas stations last year. As oil prices decline, Shell plans to expand its station network, in part so it can better peddle the other kind of fuel. [Bloomberg News]


$114 million

What comparable films to “The Interview” — which Sony scuttled yesterday due to threats against theatergoers — made, on average, at the box office since 2001. [FiveThirtyEight]


$8.65 billion loss in 48 hours

That’s the amount that 15 of Russia’s richest people lost Monday and Tuesday as the ruble fell to its lowest value in a decade. The figure is based on estimates of net worth from Bloomberg’s Billionaires index. [Vanity Fair]

See a significant digit out in the wild? Tweet it to me @WaltHickey.

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Sony Pictures Entertainment announced Wednesday that it will pull the planned Dec. 25 theatrical release of “The Interview,” an action-comedy that stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as madcap would-be assassins of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The film was the apparent inspiration for a widespread and embarrassing hack of Sony’s servers that U.S. intelligence officials think may have been initiated by the North Korean government.

Sony said it has no further release plans for “The Interview,” including on DVD or video on demand. (Disclosure: In 2009, I conducted a survey research project for Sony Pictures Entertainment.) Before Sony’s decision, several major theater chains announced they would decline to screen the film.

The decision — and the hack — will be costly to Sony. We can look at comparable films to come up with an estimate of how much “The Interview” might have made in theaters had it been released under normal circumstances. The answer: $100 million, give or take.

I came up with that estimate by looking up comparable films on IMDb. Specifically, I looked for films that:

  • Like “The Interview” were tagged as action-comedies by IMDb;
  • Like “The Interview” were rated R, and;
  • Were released in 2000 or later by a major or “mini-major” American studio.

There’s debate about what constitutes an action-comedy and about what constitutes a major studio. But the list of the 22 films this search came up with looks to be pretty reasonable. It includes “Pineapple Express,” a previous collaboration between Rogen and Franco.

These films are listed below, along with their worldwide box office grosses, production budgets and Rotten Tomatoes ratings. All figures in the article are adjusted for inflation.

silver-datalab-theinterview-table

On average, the comparable films made $114 million at the box office, although with a wide range, from $800,000 for 2005’s “Feast” to $352 million for 2003’s “Bad Boys II.”

These movies aren’t always critical favorites. Their average Rotten Tomatoes rating has been just 53 percent, and no film has scored higher than 85 percent. But audiences like them, and their combination of action sequences and slapstick humor can travel well, sometimes garnering them more box office revenue internationally than in the United States.

These films also rarely involve the nine-figure budgets sometimes associated with full-fledged action blockbusters. Instead, their average production budget has been $46 million.

“The Interview” had looked a typical film from the genre in just about every respect. Its Rotten Tomatoes rating was 53 percent as of early Wednesday evening, exactly matching the average of similar films. And its production budget was $42 million.

Both production budgets and Rotten Tomatoes ratings are predictive of box office grosses. A 1 percent gain in Rotten Tomatoes ratings is associated with a roughly $2 million increase in international box office gross (according to a linear regression analysis). And every additional $1 million in production budget translates to about $2 million more at the box office. If that sounds too good to be true, keep in mind that reported production budgets usually do not include promotion and advertising expenses, which can be substantial for films like “The Interview,” running into the eight figures. (As it happens, a commercial for “The Interview” came on just as we were working on this article.)

The analysis predicts that “The Interview” would earn $104 million at the international box office. The uncertainty on that estimate is wide, but such a figure would be similar to the average for similar films and for “Pineapple Express” in particular.

Of course, the film might have made even more given all the publicity surrounding the hack. If Sony and the theaters have the guts to show the film, I’ll be the first one in line.

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UPDATE (Dec. 17, 8:47 p.m.): A spokesperson for Sony told Variety that Sony doesn’t have plans to release “The Interview” on DVD or video on demand.

 

Sony announced Wednesday that it’s canceling the Christmas release of “The Interview,” the Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy that appears to have prompted hackers to take aim at the studio. (The New York Times is reporting that “American intelligence officials have concluded that the North Korean government was ‘centrally involved’ ” in the hacking.) Sony’s move is a result of threats against theaters showing the movie, which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and the theaters’ subsequent reluctance to screen the film.

Sony’s decision is going to prompt a whole lot of second guessing: Should Sony and the theaters have given into the threats? What does the cancellation mean for the studio? What’s the role of controversial art in society? Those are matters of opinion, but I’m a man of data. Which is why I’d love to see Sony Pictures release the film directly to video on demand (VOD).

VOD is sometimes hailed as the entertainment industry’s financial savior. But studios are notoriously risk-averse. We see it when it comes to casting, when it comes to what gets green-lit and what gets renewed for a sequel. So nobody’s been willing to release a major, heavily advertised motion picture straight to VOD without hitting theaters first.

As a result, we really don’t have any data about the financial possibilities of VOD. (I’m talking specifically about the kind of video on-demand where you pay iTunes or your cable company to watch a movie, rather than streaming services like Netflix or Hulu.)

The closest thing we have to data on VOD’s potential is “Snowpiercer,” the 2014 sci-fi movie/class parable that the Weinstein Co. made available for digital purchase two weeks after its theatrical release. The results were really interesting. The film made $3.8 million in its first two weeks on VOD, compared to $3.9 million over its first five weeks in theaters, according to Variety’s reporting.

That’s a data point, but it’s not enough to draw any conclusions. We don’t have multiple instances of studios seriously kicking the tires of VOD for major theatrical releases. And that’s the kind of data that — hypothetically, if VOD is really worth the hype — could potentially persuade studios to look into the distribution medium as their first avenue of release.

As I see it, Sony has three main options:

  • Make “The Interview” the new “The Day The Clown Cried” — a movie that never sees the light of day.
  • Hold “The Interview” for months, releasing it once the threats fade, hopefully without prompting new ones.
  • Send “The Interview” to VOD to try to make something back on it, while at the same time gathering data that the rest of the industry is too scared to collect itself. That could establish Sony as a leader in VOD among the major studios.

From a strictly data perspective, I’d like to see them go with Option 3.

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The Cuban cigar industry should be excited. President Obama announced Wednesday that the United States intends to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and urged Congress to end the more than 50-year-old trade embargo, opening up a new market for the famous cigarmakers. But the best years for cigar sales in the U.S. are over.

We don’t know the size of the market for Cuban cigars in the U.S. because of the embargo, but we do have good projections for overall cigar smoking in the country and across the world. The U.S. cigar market totaled $8 billion in 2013, representing about 34 percent of the world market. But it’s steadily declining.

flowers-datalab-cubancigars-1

The share of world cigars sales made in the U.S. peaked in 2009, at 39 percent, and is expected to continue to fall at least through 2018, according to Euromonitor International, a market research provider.

Under current projections, the U.S. cigar market share will total about 29 percent in 2018. The U.S. market is only expected to grow about 8 percent over the next five years, while the world market is predicted to expand by nearly 30 percent.

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Nearly 15 years ago, President Bill Clinton authorized federal agents to return Elian Gonzalez, who had been rescued at sea and sent to live with relatives in Florida, to his father in Cuba. The outcry from the Cuban community in Florida was loud and may have cost Al Gore the presidency in 2000. But we shouldn’t expect anything close to the same political ramifications after President Obama’s announcement that the United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana.

Opinions on U.S.-Cuban relations have changed vastly in the past 15 years. The Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University has been polling Cuban-Americans living in South Florida since 1991. On the embargo question, Cuban-Americans had favored maintaining or strengthening it; today, a slight majority oppose it.

enten-datalab-cubaembargo

Only 48 percent favor the embargo. That compares with 87 percent when the question was first asked 23 years ago and 62 percent in 2000. Although all generations have turned more against the embargo in recent years, opposition to it is especially strong among those who have recently arrived from Cuba. Only 42 percent of those who came to the U.S. in the past 20 years are in favor of keeping it, compared with a majority of those who came before 1994. Cuban-Americans older than 65 favor continuing it; all age groups below 65 oppose it.

The American public overall has also grown more favorable to Cuba in recent years. Going back to 1999, Gallup has always found that more Americans have been in favor of ending the embargo than continuing it. And in Gallup’s 2009 survey, the most recent available, 60 percent of respondents said they favored “re-establishing U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba.”

Finally, Cuban-Americans in Florida made up only 6 percent of all Florida voters in 2012. That means for the embargo to have much of an electoral impact, there would have to be a big backlash from the Cuban-American community. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

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The third and final installment of “The Hobbit” series hits theaters Wednesday, and it’ll mark the last time fans will get the chance to explore Middle Earth for the conceivable future.

The trilogy of films — 474 minutes of orcs and elves — is based on a single novel by J.R.R. Tolkien that, according to my paperback copy, numbers 293 pages. In other words, the filmmakers have wrung all they could out of the source material.

Take, for instance, a sequence from the first film — “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012) — in which the traveling party is beset by stone giants having an elaborate, and presumably very expensive, CGI rock ‘em sock ‘em robots battle.

Based on my estimation, the scene runs about 2 minutes, 12 seconds. It’s based on this bit of text:

“Bilbo … saw that across the valley the stone-giants were out, and were hurling rocks at one another for a game, and catching them, and tossing them down into the darkness where they smashed along the trees far below, or splintered into little bits with a bang … they could hear the giants guffawing and shouting all over the mountainsides.”

One sentence! And the stone giants were never heard from again!

Indeed, compared with other recent films adapted from works of fiction, “The Hobbit” movies are outliers. I pulled the run time, according to IMDb, of 54 popular films released since 2000 that were based on novels. I then found the page count for each book using the top-selling edition on Amazon. Page counts aren’t always the same among editions, but we’re just looking for an estimate of length. It’s tricky to find an authoritative word count, which would be ideal.

For books that were split into two films — think “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay,” “The Hobbit,” and “Twilight: Breaking Dawn” — I found the last chapter used in the first film and split the books there.

Here’s what film lengths plotted against page count looks like for the 54 films in my sample (this isn’t a super rigorous sample; I tried to get a good mix of the more popular young adult series, high fantasy novels, a few classics and several contemporary thrillers. See the end of this piece for a table with all the films.):

hickey-datalab-hobbit

The conclusion? “The Hobbit” movies are the only films with more minutes of film than book pages. There was 1 minute, 41 seconds of film per source page in the first film; 1 minute, 20 seconds per page in the second; and an unprecedented two minutes per page in the last film, which clocks in at 144 minutes and is based on only 72 pages of source material.

The closest runner up is “The Great Gatsby” (2013), which was 143 minutes long and based on 180 pages of source material. Even then, there were 48 seconds of film for each page.

What about the movies that take a lot of source material and compress it into a comparatively brief film? The most efficient film I pulled was “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007), a 115-minute movie based on a sprawling, 752-page Robert Ludlum novel, leaving it about nine seconds of film per page. Next in line for brevity is “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (2007), which was the longest book in the series yet had the second-shortest film. The first three “Twilight” films and the other “Bourne” movies were also comparatively brief.

So, if you catch “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” this weekend and are fatigued by minute 20 of the eponymous battle, take heart in the fact that Peter Jackson at least had the courtesy of making the Hollywood adaptation shorter than the audiobook.

That is, at least, until the film’s special editions come out.

hickey-hobbit-table

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Welcome to the second edition of Significant Digits, a daily digest of the telling numbers tucked inside the news. We’re experimenting with it, so let us know what you think.

0.09 bitcoin

Time magazine announced that it would begin to accept payment for subscriptions in the digital currency bitcoin. A one year, $30 print subscription would cost about 0.09 BTC based on yesterday’s prices. It’s always touching when two volatile and uncertain business models find each other. [The New York Times]


15 percent of the vote

That’s the percentage of Republican voters who would back former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a presidential primary if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney doesn’t run. Bush leads a Romney-less field, and yesterday announced his intention to form an exploratory committee to look into running for the presidency. [The Washington Post]


26 percent good news

The nation’s perception of its job situation appears to be improving: 26 percent of Americans reported hearing good news about jobs compared to 25 percent who heard bad news. That’s the first time good news beat bad news in five years. [Pew Research Center]


90 days of free mail

Just one of many perks enjoyed by former members of the U.S. Congress. In addition to being entitled to taxpayer-funded mail (through something called the “franking privilege,”), former House members can continue to use the parking lot, the member’s dining room and the gym, albeit the latter has a fee. [The Washington Post]


294 mistakenly accepted freshman

Johns Hopkins University mistakenly told 294 applicants they were accepted to the prestigious university when they had actually been denied. The cringeworthy error places Hopkins in good company: Fordham University, Vassar College and The University of California at San Diego have all erroneously admitted students in the last few years. [The Washington Post]


$550 less on gasoline

The average U.S. household is expected to spend $1,962 on gasoline next year, about $550 less than this year. That forecast is the lowest level in 11 years. [U.S. Energy Information Administration]


1,000 tons of frozen french fries

McDonalds is running out of french fries in Japan due to labor disputes at U.S. ports, leading to rationing and size limits beginning Wednesday. McDonalds has taken emergency measures and airlifted 1,000 tons of fries in, with a subsequent plan to ship over another 1,600 tons in January. Please keep the people of Japan in your thoughts and prayers in this difficult time. [The Washington Post]


7,000 body cameras

Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti announced a plan to purchase 7,000 body cameras for the LAPD, enough for most of the department’s 9,900 officers. [Los Angeles Times]


$10,000 starting bid

That’s the starting bid for one of the Army’s 4,000 surplus Humvees, which are on sale to the general public starting Wednesday. It’s an exceptional choice if you were disgusted by the earlier item about Americans saving $550 on gasoline next year. [Jalopnik]


925 million gallons

Forecasted consumption of orange juice this fiscal year, the lowest since at least 1996 and the eighth decline in 10 years. [Bloomberg News]

See a significant digit out in the wild? Tweet it to me @WaltHickey.

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Taliban gunmen stormed a Pakistani military-run school in Peshawar on Tuesday, killing at least 132 students and nine teachers, according to a military spokesman. Tahir Ali, the father of a 14-year-old boy who was killed, told the Associated Press, “My son was my dream. My dream has been killed.”

Pakistan has sustained among the most deaths from terrorism of any country in recent years, and Tuesday’s mass murder killed more civilians than any other terrorist incident in Pakistan’s history, according to media reports. Before the attack on the Army Public School, the grim security situation in Pakistan had improved slightly this year. December was on pace for the fewest civilian deaths from terrorism in a month since August 2007.

More than 3,000 Pakistani civilians died in terrorist attacks in both 2012 and 2013, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which monitors violence in the region. This year, through Sunday, 1,595 civilians had died, including 26 this month. Twenty-six is a horrific total for most countries in a year — 20 more than the number killed in all of 2013 in the U.S., which has roughly 75 percent more residents than Pakistan. But it’s also a monthly rate of about 58 civilians, the fewest killed in a month in Pakistan since 56 civilians died in August 2007. Tuesday’s attack reversed that modest progress; December now is the deadliest month since February.

bialik-datalab-peshawar

These figures, like all terrorism death counts, aren’t exact. Researchers, often relying on incomplete or conflicting media reports, don’t always agree on how many people died and which people were civilians, as opposed to security forces or terrorists or insurgents.

“Figures are compiled from news reports and are provisional,” the South Asia Terrorism Portal cautions on its website.

For example, the portal’s numbers differ from those compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace for its Global Terrorism Index, which last month ranked Pakistan as the country with the third highest terrorist activity in the world, behind Iraq and Afghanistan. The institute uses data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, which is based at the University of Maryland, College Park. The consortium uses software to mine news articles and add events to its database. It counted 2,345 people killed by terrorism in Pakistan last year. The two sources agree on the long-term trend: that the number of civilians killed annually had increased roughly 20-fold in Pakistan from 2003 to 2013.

Peshawar’s province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, had been experiencing relative calm until Tuesday (like Pakistan overall). Terrorists killed five civilians in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa last month, the fewest there since August 2013. The region was on pace to reduce civilian terrorist deaths this year by roughly 50 percent from last year’s total of 603.

And despite regular violence in Peshawar, the region as a whole isn’t the one most dangerous for civilians in Pakistan. Between 2011 and Sunday, its civilian death rate from terrorism was below those of Sindh and Balochistan, though above that of the country’s most populous province, Punjab. (Exact rates can’t be computed because Pakistan’s last census, in 2011, produced suspect results, and the prior one was in 1998. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s civilian death rate from terrorism ranked below those of Sindh and Balochistan using either year’s population figures.)

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