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The Real Winner of the Pandemic Was Cannabis

When the pandemic first struck, the impact did not initially discriminate among essential and non-essential businesses. While grocery stores and those selling toilet paper were in immediate demand, most other retailers suffered. (How big were grocery stores and delivery services during the pandemic? Check out this Bold story to find out.) Cannabis industry reports tell a similar story. Early on during the pandemic, cannabis stores saw a dramatic drop in sells. And in many states, they weren’t permitted to remain open to the public. Not knowing how cannabis use during COVID would fare, many retailers worried about their ability to survive. But what happened next could not have been anticipated.

Marijuana use is now legal for medical and/or recreational use in 35 states throughout the country. With many other forms of entertainment being put on hold, consumers increasingly turned to cannabis use during COVID. Likewise, the medicinal effects of cannabis related to anti-anxiety and relaxation appealed to others. For dynamic cannabis retailers who were willing to adapt to this new environment, there were opportunities to be had. All of this resulted in a banner year for sales according to cannabis industry reports. And as far as anyone can tell, sales aren’t about to slow.

“That first week, the government didn’t differentiate between essential and nonessential businesses. Dispensaries went into panic mode, asking if they could send product back to us.” Nicolas MacLean, CEO of Aether Gardens, a Las Vegas cannabis producer

Rolling with the Changes

In terms of cannabis use during COVID, retailers faced different struggles depending on their state environment. For example, Las Vegas allowed dispensaries to reopen with weeks of the initial shutdown. But without tourists coming into the area, the typical consumer market was absent. In Massachusetts, cannabis dispensaries were not allowed to remain open even after liquor stores were. These businesses faced a different set of struggles. And for many, social distancing restrictions and general fear of contracting COVID nearly eliminated in-person sales.

Despite these changes, the cannabis industry reports a total of $17.5 billion in U.S. sales for 2020. This reflected a 46 percent increase in sales over 2019. How did this happen amidst a pandemic? To a large extent, creative cannabis retailers reinvented themselves. In Las Vegas, local residents increased their consumption of cannabis during COVID. In essence, the 2 million residents of the area replaced tourists along the Vegas strip. In other areas, online orders, phone orders, and curbside pickup saved the day. In other words, adaptability and resilience saved the day as cannabis demand profiles shifted.

“If you don’t like roadblocks thrown at you all the time, like a video game, this is not the industry for you.” – Meg Sanders, CEO of Canna Provisions

Lasting Effects of Cannabis Use Post-Pandemic

In other retail segments of the market, consumers have shifted to online ordering and have come accustomed to delivery. The same was actually true for cannabis use during COVID. Whilw quarantined at home, many consumers turned to the Internet to educate themselves more about various marijuana products and offerings. In doing so, they also took advantage of the opportunity to preorder specific products for curbside pickup. In some states, the cannabis industry reports there were delivery options available. Specifically, Eaze is a California-based cannabis delivery app that brings orders to consumers’ doorsteps. Eaze now has over 800,000 customers. Cannabis use during COVID increased their signups by 70 percent, resulting in an order every eight seconds.

A bunch of cannabis products on display
The cannabis industry has maintained steady growth, due in part to regulatory acceptance, medical use, and changing social views.

These shifts in the market driven by cannabis use during COVID could have lasting effects. There is evidence that food delivery shifts in consumer patterns continue to drive specific preferences. DoorDash, UberEats, and GrubHub are prime examples of this. (Dive deeper into the growth of Uber in this Bold story.) In addition, Uber recently acquired Drizly, an alcohol delivery app. Understanding this, it might be that Uber plans additional mergers and acquisitions to expand its services. An acquisition of Eaze could allow Uber to expand its offerings to an even broader market.

“When the road is clear for cannabis, when federal laws come into play, we’re absolutely going to take a look at it.” Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber

A Driver for Federal Legalization

While the jury is still out on federal legalization of cannabis use, the subject is certainly getting more attention. With the vast majority of states now recognizing its medicinal value, the cannabis industry reports optimism for the future. This could have significant impacts on cannabis sales and delivery as well as interstate commerce. As it stands now, marijuana is still considered an illegal substance. Thus, any movement of the product across a state line is against federal law. Plus, any bank with federal support could face money laundering charges when dealing with a cannabis dispensary or producer. As a result, many cannabis businesses primarily operate in cash sales.

Cannabis use during COVID has placed greater pressure on federal lawmakers in pushing legalization forward. For one, the marked rise in anxiety among Americans during the pandemic encouraged greater cannabis use during COVID. This further supports its value in managing anxiety from a medicinal perspective. Also, the shear number of sales for 2020 that the cannabis industry reports incentivizes legalization too. Given that sales are in the billions, the tax revenues may further influence policymakers to reconsider their position. Should this occur, then it will become increasingly likely that Uber and other companies will explore cannabis growth opportunities.

Looking at Future Cannabis Industry Reports

At the current time, too many unknowns exist to accurately predict just how much growth the cannabis industry will see in coming years. But based on cannabis use during COVID, most analysts expected strong continued growth. Their predictions may be underestimations should federal legalization take place, or even if banking laws changed. But consumer demand has certainly increased in the last year along with the way customers prefer their products. Now that we’re living in the age of rapid delivery, every industry is fair game for dynamic change. And the cannabis industry is no different.

 

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The Explosive Growth of the Gaming Industry Continues

In the past few weeks, there have been several media announcements highlighting major changes in the industry. It seems everyone is jockeying for position, trying to acquire adequate content as well as streaming services. Notably, consumers have different preferences in the wake of the pandemic that demand such changes. But it extends well beyond series, films, and shorts. One of the largest drivers of these changes is actually an increased demand for video game streaming services. In fact, the gaming industry represents the fastest growing sector in the global media and entertainment sector.

The gaming industry has enjoyed a tremendous boost in the last year as many were in lockdown in their homes. As a result, the growth of streaming services was greater than expected. (Read more about the great streaming pivot of 2020 in this Bold story.) Likewise, the demographics of these markets globally have revealed some interesting findings. All of this is fueling what looks to be a significant shake-up in the media entertainment business. And it seems clear that there is much more change to come before the dust settles. But no matter what happens, most agree the gaming industry will continue to enjoy rapid growth and success.

“As part of the pandemic, we saw that games continue to be how people create and maintain connections. Gaming grew as a socially connected experience, whether that was watching streams or using games as a way to connect with family and friends while sheltering at home.” –Meagan Timney, Head of UX, Stadia at Google

Gaming By the Numbers

The gaming industry has been projected to grow at 11.9 percent compound annual growth for the next several years. But these predictions were underestimated as a result of the pandemic. In the year 2020 alone, video game streaming services increased 27 percent, generating 56.9 billion in revenues in the U.S. Globally, these figures were nearly $170 billion in total revenues for the year. In the process, many new customers and enthusiasts have entered the market who might not have otherwise done so.

A video game controller and a smart phone
It was growing before the pandemic, and after a year of lockdowns, the video game industry is even bigger.

While all entertainment media has contributed to higher streaming demand, video games have been a major source of influence. When it comes to mobile and PC devices, the gaming industry represents the fastest growing segment. Because of this, and general changes in consumer preferences, media companies are struggling to keep pace. Video game streaming services have been increasing in demand over this period of time. And with anticipated growth, the competition for these services is steep. As a result, many recent mergers and acquisitions as well as joint ventures have occurred. (Curious about mergers & acquisitions developments? Bold has you covered.)

“Within the next two years, it’s going to be put up or shut up for all of us. Can you show you’re scaling? Are you going to be a player in the U.S.? Are you going to be a player around the world?” – David Zaslav, CEO of Discovery

Jockeying to Stay in the Game

As video game streaming services climb, entertainment giants look to ensure they can meet customers’ future needs. This not only includes having the ability to stream video games, but it also requires content. Those who enjoy rich content and networks will clearly have an advantage within the market. In this regard, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon have all increased investments into their cloud services. They are also exploring video game subscriptions as potential revenue models. Netflix is also making changes and recently hired a gaming chief executive. Naturally, they too are looking to take advantage of the growing gaming industry.

These are not the only changes that are taking place recently. For example, Amazon recently announced its acquisition of MGM Studios for $8.45 billion. This deal will enable Amazon to major content that it can then license for streaming. Likewise, AT&T recently pursued a joint venture with Disney that involves WarnerMedia and Discovery. This too will expand access to media content as well as streaming platforms. Given these recent consolidations, it’s understandable that gaming content will be in high demand soon as well. Many analysts expect similar moves in the gaming industry as video game streaming services increase.

“Female players are a core component of the gaming population, both for today and tomorrow. The growth rate for new female players is much faster than the one for males, so, in a future where females could be the majority of the player population in many markets.” – Paula Wang, Director of App Developer Sales, APAC

Demographic Shifts in the Gaming Industry

Over the course of the last year, entertainment companies have learned more about those using video game streaming services. Most commonly, these users are younger, usually between 24 and 35 years of age. As a result, the target market for companies in the gaming industry has been those in Gen Z. But interestingly, there are an increasing number of gamers in other age segments as well. Plus, one of the most rapidly growing demographics in the gaming industry are female gamers. This is particularly true in Asian markets where the growth of female user has far exceeded make users.

In addition to these insights, media companies are also learning more about consumer preferences regarding subscription services. The average person currently will generally not sign up for more than 4 streaming platforms or networks. Likewise, they tend to average about $40 a month in expenditures as well. While this applies mainly to other media, the same likely holds true to the gaming industry as well. Therefore, if video game streaming services continue to increase in popularity, sacrifices will likely be made in other media areas. This will likely influence how media enterprises structure their content for users in the future as well.

Predicting the Future Impact of the Gaming Industry

Trying to determine how large a portion the gaming industry will occupy in future media and entertainment markets is tough. But the rapid growth of video game streaming services this year suggests it will be significant. Current moves to scale up streaming capacities and content make logical sense given market shifts lately. And companies will likely start looking to expand gaming content specifically as a result. This sector looks to still be in its early stages, so anything is possible. It’s certain, however, that the current gaming landscape won’t look the same in a few years.

 

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Cool Product Roundup: New Smart Toys for Kids

Creative innovations abound in a number of product industries. New technology with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and data analytics have fueled these developments. Notably, one of the most intriguing product categories experiencing these effects are children’s toys. Equipped with all sorts of sensors, speakers, microphones, and cameras, new interactive smart toys abound. And many of these can be described as smart educational toys, geared to advance child development and learning.

Without questions, these new interactive smart toys are among some of the coolest products on the market today. But how can parents know which ones are well-designed and which ones aren’t? Just because various products are labelled as smart educational toys may not mean their high quality. Likewise, some of these new devices pose threats to children’s privacy and safety. (Dig deeper into the world of surveillance capitalism in this Bold story.) In this cool product innovation roundup, we’ll explore a number of today’s coolest new interactive smart toys. And we’ll examine just how great these smart educational toys actually are.

“Globally, there is an urgent need to provide education for all using AI, but first we must produce governance around smart toys and educational AI.” – Kay Firth-Butterfield, Head of AI and Machine Learning, World Economic Forum

Defining the Coolest New Smart Toys

Not every toy on the market today equipped with AI is something a child should have. Artificial intelligence can enhance learning in many ways. However, it must also be used ethically and designed according to a child’s learning needs. In this regard, the best smart educational toys are those that have several key attributes. In fact, the World Economic Forum has identified four major features that new smart toys should have. These include privacy and cybersecurity protections, accessibility, innovative uses, and healthy play for child development. With these in place, safe opportunities for enhanced learning can best be realized.

With this in mind, the World Economic Forum partnered with Generation AI to create the annual Smart Toy Awards. Using the categories above, new interactive smart toys are judged accordingly before determining each year’s finalists. Such evaluations of smart educational toys are essential today as the industry has increased progressively in the last decade. In fact, the overall sector involving new smart toys is expected to reach $18 billion by 2023. Without some way to evaluate overall quality, parents will have an increasingly difficult time telling what’s cool and what’s not.

“Play is one of the places where we can capture a kid’s imagination. For a child to get interested in potentially having a STEM career, you want [to] capture their imagination.” – Tamara Moore, Professor of Engineering Education and Executive Director of INSPIRE

An army of robots assembling to attack
The market is flush with smart interactive toys that can keep kids engaged–and learning.

The Coolest Smart Educational Toys for 2021

The finalists among the World Economic Forum’s Smart Toy Awards did not disappoint this year. Several innovative companies showcased some intriguing smart new toys, and a total of 7 were included. Each of these smart educational toys offer children great opportunities for enhanced learning. And they do so with safety and protections in mind. Here is the list of 2021’s coolest new smart toys for 2021.

  • Intelino – This innovative company provides children with an opportunity to learn coding at a young age. Through its Smart Train set, children give the train commands by placing different colored tiles on the track. In a similar way, they can also do so by using the toy’s app. In the process, children gain a basic understanding of how to code for specific actions. Not only is this one of the most interesting smart educational toys this year, but it’s also one of the most fun.

    Click on the image to learn more!
  • Leka – This company’s product named Alpha was also identified as one of the best new interactive smart toys for 2021. Alpha is a robot for children with special needs, and it uses movement, lights, and games to encourage learning. Through various activities, Alpha promotes cognitive, physical, and emotional skills development. Likewise, it embraces personalized learning, which is certainly important for those with unique educational needs.
  • ROYBI – Noted by Time Magazine as one of the best smart educational toys, the ROYBI robot also made the list for 2021. This AI-powered educational robot is designed for children age 3 years and older. It offers these children opportunities to advance their language skills while also helping develop basic STEM knowledge. This specific toy was recognized for its ability to promote personalized learning and for its early childhood educational advantages.

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  • LEGO – As far as the most creative among this year’s coolest new interactive smart toys, LEGO’s VIDIYO might win the prize. This toy allows kids to create their own music videos using augmented reality. Not only can they direct their own creative content, but they can star in it as well using LEGO characters. For the creative child at heart, this is one of the smart educational toys parents may want to consider.

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  • CoderMindz – Perhaps one of the most interesting things about this cool toy product is that it was designed by a 16-year-old. In essence, it consists of a board game that teaches children the basics of artificial intelligence. Children must train game pieces to navigate the board, and in the process, learn essential features of AI.

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  • Play Shifu – Augmented reality was utilized in several of the smart educational toys in this year’s list. This company’s product, named Plugo, uses AR to allow children to use real-world toys on a tablet to play games. In the process, children can enhance their spelling, math, and science skills.

    Click on the image to learn more!
  • Twin Science – One of the coolest new interactive smart toys this year has to be the Autonomous Vehicle Kit by Twin Science. Not only do children learn how to build an autonomous, self-driving car equipped with sensors, cameras, and motors. They also can enjoy riding in it once they’re done. This has real-world applications, and it also offers kids a great deal of fun as well.

 

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