“You had your time, you had the power, you’ve yet to have your finest hour” sang Freddie Mercury on the Queen song “Radio Ga Ga“. Though the song concerned the struggling and declining popularity of radio; it seems frightfully relevant considering the current state of television.
It may be no surprise to most that TV has taken a bit of backseat in recent years; though what should be a surprise is the 50% decline in TV viewership since 2002; according to a 2013 report from Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburn.
So where are all these cord-cutting viewers going? Well the most obvious answer points to another screen, the one you’re probably staring at right now to use the internet. The home computer or laptop. Include the advent of smartphones, tablets and wireless internet too, and suddenly this further throws a wrench into the works of television moguls and broadcasters; many of whom are left scratching their heads under settling dust of departing viewers.
Though, not all audiences are completely neglecting television. One clear divide present between audiences is based on age demographics; with younger generations spending the most time on online streaming sites and services. To really see this social divide, switch on any morning talk show. There is nothing quite like seeing a panel of middle aged men and women commenting on YouTube videos. It’s like watching an old man on a pogo stick; it’s cringeworthy and you just know things are going to end badly.
Much like how television during its early run severely damaged the motion picture industry in the 1930s and 40s; it seems that the internet and online streaming services are repeating history – this time targeting TV. However, the internet has been around publicly since the 90s, and YouTube first hit the web around 2005; so why is the television industry only starting to see viewers packing their bags now?
The reason is partly seen through an influx of free and paid on-demand streaming video sites, such as Hulu and Vimeo; largely in response due to YouTube’s success. For quite a while, YouTube now considered one of the major streaming sites, operated in a similar fashion akin to public-access television. Open to the public to upload what they saw fit; amateur productions, hopeful musicians, spoofs, parodies, TV and movie rips and the downright bizarre were all on full display like some whacky carnival. In fact, this original appeal and service is still readily available even today on the site.
However, with Google stepping in and taking over the helm in late 2006, YouTube no longer was merely a time-sink for the curious, bored, hungover or stoned at 3am; but instead became a viable investment for big advertising companies and broadcasters alike looking to recoup their losses. This also included new YouTube policies which further created incentives for small channels to grow and become legitimate businesses and enterprises. The benefit for Google meant consistent viewers, leading to more watched adverts and ad revenue streaming in.
Let’s look at the current top 10 most subscribed channels on YouTube. They have an estimated total of roughly 17.97 billion views; and an estimated amount of 68.4 million subscribers, combined. Excluding two Vevo run channels in the top 10, many started out as independent amateur channels and grew into large conglomerates, such as The Yogscast; operating out of an office-block in Bristol, now spread over roughly 10 separate YouTube channels.
While YouTube may be the most commonly used online streaming site, other companies have risen based solely on targeting an influx of new audiences and snatching TV viewers. Netflix, founded in 1997 operates as an on-demand internet streaming service, while also supplying DVD sales and rental deliveries to its customers; operating through a subscription-based model. Largely in competition with premium-cable channels such as HBO and AMC, Netflix has proved itself as a viable business, with an estimated 27.1 million customers in the US alone and 33.3 million total, including a successful original series (House of Cards) to boot.
Regardless of the success of these online services, they still don’t really tell us why some viewers are switching off when it comes to TV broadcasting. You have to ask yourself, what’s making customers cancel? A possible issue may be attributed to high subscription based models and licensing fees implemented by many cable broadcasters. Time Warner’s HBO in the US; the BBC in the UK; and even Foxtel closer to home have all seen their share of declines or flats in subscription numbers. Despite operating through a paid-subscription based business, Foxtel still features a heavy amount of advertising; and just recently faced backlash over reducing the number of movie channels while retaining the same fees. HBO has even attempted to enter the online streaming market by offering their own service HBO GO; however, the actual service is limited to already paying subscribers of the cable channel.
The simple economic model of supply and demand means cable television isn’t adjusting to falling viewer numbers by reducing fees; meaning they cannot compete with on-demand streaming services over a long term period.
Due to high subscription rates, the idea of owning cable TV has become a luxury for some; although there are still other means for people who want to watch a series or episode shown exclusively on cable. Pirating statistics for 2012 have shown that in some cases, the number of downloads have outweighed the amount of on-air viewers; with the HBO series Game of Thrones topping the list of most downloaded series with an estimated 4.28 million downloads. The Showtime series Dexter also came in at second, with 3.85 million downloads; like Game of Thrones, out performing the number of subscription paying viewers, watching through television sets.
For those who have turned away from television, pirating has proven a quick and easy alternative to obtain certain shows, held under lock and key for subscription paying eyes only. However, piracy is a bit like going through back alleys to get a cheap product; it can be great, but you might get stabbed along the way.
Piracy being one of the main factors attributed towards the infamous legislative bill known as SOPA, during 2011 – 2012. A heavily restrictive bill targeting copyright breaches of online videos and streaming services; it was no surprise that some of the companies backing the bill included the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA), Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and Viacom. While SOPA didn’t come to pass, other copyright acts such as the DMCA are still in effect and enforced.
At the end of the day, a large component attributing to this divide between internet users and television viewers comes down to freedom of choice. Many are comfortable getting what they want, when they want it. Internet streaming and online videos mean viewers no longer have to deal with laborious advertisements or broadcasting schedules; instead choosing when and how they watch their shows. Regulation in this case, seems to be a thing of the past.
While television broadcasting isn’t completely gone from the airwaves, and TV sets are still a legitimate substitute baby-sitter; the industry definitely seems to be riding a steady decline. However, live sports for example, are still proving to be a big pull on cable and national television channels, with the recent 2013 Super Bowl pulling in an average of 108.41 million viewers; though still down on previous years 111.3 million, according to a Reuters report.
The big fear is that instead of obtaining stronger shows and programming to combat audience losses, or simply reduce fees; broadcasters might instead resort to gimmicks and novelties in a desperate attempt to retain viewers. Maybe Smell-O-Vision might not be as far away as we once thought.
The Sad Demise of Bolton Wanderers Football Club
It is hard to believe the dismal state Bolton Wanderers find themselves in
If you watched the English Premier League during the early 2000s, you would have been familiar with the plight of Bolton Wanderers. The long running club is now in absolute dire straits, bereft of resources, searching desperately for new owners as it staves away its seemingly inevitable end. It is truly a sad turn of events for a club that has been around for almost 150 years, once known as the plucky, never-die team of English football’s top flight.
The Greater Manchester club, gleefully nicknamed ‘The Trotters’, were always a group of ragtag underachievers who constantly overachieved. The club, under the tutelage of Big Sam Allardyce, spent several Premier League seasons languishing at the bottom end of the table staving off relegation before progressing to mid-table safety. It wasn’t that they were good, because, for the most part, they weren’t, but it was because they always found a gutsy way of surviving by sheer determination, miraculous last game results, and for finding the last remaining ounce of juice left in washed-up players looking for one last round of glory.
It’s the latter point perhaps, that endeared Bolton to fans who didn’t spend their weekends at the Reebok Stadium. Bolton was the home to many talents that found new life under Allardyce. Players that managed to thrill a mostly dull part of the footballing world with European flair and Nigerian spice. I have fond memories of the indomitable Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff reminding fans of their class. Then there were the bruising, hard-hitting playing styles of Ivan Campo and Fernando Hierro- adding much-needed steel to that Bolton lineup. They complimented the steadfast if not boring quality that came with the ever-present Jussi Jääskeläinen and Kevin Davies. Atop them all sat Big Sam- who long before he became a joke in English football, was the no-frills, old-school English manager who took Bolton up from the old Division One to the Premier League. And during his run, he became known for being able to get Bolton out of trouble at the last minute, no matter how ugly the season had been. They made an FA Cup Semi Final and the Round of 16 of the UEFA Cup, somehow beating Atletico Madrid along the way.
Those days are sadly long gone as the club find itself languishing in the third tier of English football, once again ending the previous season relegated. Mired in financial disarray, the club has been in control of administrators since May, with its long-awaited takeover by new owners (whoever they may end up being) dragging on and on. The sad state of affairs has been punctuated by the club unable to pay its players and staff, canceled pre-season friendlies, and quite possibly the saddest team sheet in all the time I’ve been a fan of English football. As of this time, their official team page has but 7 players listed (no defenders), not even enough to field a full first team. If by the time you read this they’re able to pull their socks up and field a full team, it’ll be a miracle.
Their financial downward spiral hit breaking point in 2015 when the club found itself £172.9 million in debt. It only seemed to get worse from there. Unpaid taxes, transfer embargoes, manager changes, poor results, and most depressingly, non-playing staff having to use food bank donations to feed themselves (including donations from rival club Preston North End).
It really is hard to believe the dismal state Bolton find themselves in. I can’t imagine what it must be like for a true Wanderers fan to face the reality of their club in 2019. It’s not that the club has ever been successful (their last significant trophy was the 1958 FA Cup), but from the outside, their grit, their pluck, and their ability to seemingly escape the direst of circumstances made them endearing. They were the underdog team of has-beens, never-rans, forgotten souls, and Big Sam.
Now it seems their darkest days are closing in. Football fans surely would love for new owners to come in, reset the club, and start that long, arduous journey back into stability. But their new season hopes don’t even start on any positive note, with their financial failings they’ve already been docked 12 points before the start of the new season. Even with new owners, it will take a significant time to turn things around. The best they can hope for is to pull a Rangers and find themselves back on the up after 5 or so years… but the English Premier League is a far different beast to that of the Scottish Premier League, just ask Leeds United.
The long road back is never going to be easy. And for Bolton Wanderers, once a club that found its soul with players looking for one last spot of luck, may have run out of its own.
Divided We Fail: How Individualism is Holding the U.S. Back
The bootstrap mentality is about as American as apple pie. But it’s destroying our already frayed social net and education system. Can we resist our individualistic roots to mobilize and enact progressive policies?
To understand the swampy depths of American individualism is also to acknowledge that we have a serious inability to comprehend looming disaster. In fact, we’re uniquely terrible at it.
Loosely defined, American individualism is the idea that prosperity and growth is overwhelmingly the result of an individual’s hard work, cleverness, grit, and all that. (It’s both hilarious and fitting that one of our most reviled and economically disastrous presidents, Herbert Hoover, was the main architect behind the notion of American individualism.)
On one hand, this belief in individualism seems empowering. It tells us we are the captains of our own ships. It tells us we don’t have to be defined by our childhood traumas or underfunded school systems. It tells us that through scrappiness and ingenuity and discipline, we can rise above our circumstances and succeed, no matter what.
The inverse, of course, is that our failures are also ours alone to bear—with little regard for the systems and circumstances that cause some people to spend lifetimes catching up to where others were simply born.
American individualism explains so much of what we get wrong as a country, even in 2019. We downplay the systemic racism and violence of our police force through tunnel vision that tells us there are only a “few bad apples” rather than a flawed, oppressive police state. We’re unable to treat things like healthcare or housing as basic human rights, positing instead that those without access to food or shelter probably just haven’t “earned” it. And higher education—often treated as the great equalizer by meritocrats—is so expensive, it’s crippling our economy as a whole. Yet too many students are blaming themselves, and too many people are blaming students.
One is the Lousiest Number
These days, it’s hard to pick what to worry about more in the U.S. The list of societal threats certainly is long—climate change, the impending retirement crisis, the ongoing student debt crisis. These problems have been worsening for decades, and they’re all the result of failures at a systematic level.
The climate crisis was ramped up by decades of poorly regulated industries that pumped carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The retirement crisis that will likely come full force when Generation X starts leaving the workforce was set into motion by a shrinking pension system and the increasingly uncertain future of Social Security. And higher education became outrageously expensive over years of unchecked soaring tuition and fee increases.
But not everyone recognizes these mass-scale problems for what they are. Instead, too many people are blaming individual choices for giant societal failures. And these arguments are distracting us from collective solutions. Realistically, no one should be arguing that student loan forgiveness is a “half-baked” idea steeped in self-interest. Or that climate change can be reasonably combatted through laudable (yet mostly insignificant) individual actions like going vegetarian.
The numbers prove just how puny our individual actions really are against these larger-than-us problems. For example, even the most generous, self-massaged estimates put a single company like ExxonMobil’s annual carbon emissions in the range of well over 100 million CO2 equivalent metric tons. The average American, through even the most radical lifestyle changes and discipline, would likely only lower their annual emissions from about 20 metric tons to 8 metric tons. It would take millions and millions of people selling their cars and going vegan to equate to just one ExxonMobil. (Spoiler alert: There are way too many companies just like it.)
As Aaron Huertas of the Union of Concerned Scientists eloquently states: “We can’t ignore individual choice and responsibility; at the same time, we also have to recognize that our individual choices are constrained by corporate practices and government laws and regulations.”
A Way Out and Up
All is not lost, though. There is hope.
While the 2020 presidential pool for the Democrats may be a bit flooded, the makeup of the pool has revealed a trend: the ideas of sweeping economic relief and safety net programs are becoming more mainstream. If the Democratic party can just avoid spending its time strategizing against democratic socialism, we could enact policies that tackle these problems at the level they’re actually at.
Party insiders and centrists aside, it looks like voters are—even if just subtly and slowly—pressuring politicians to stop blaming individual choice for societal woes. The idea of multiple presidential candidates touting competing student loan relief programs would have seemed outrageous even a few election cycles ago—and now Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Julián Castro are all on board.
The point is, we’re getting there. And if we can fight against our very American instincts, we can realize—en masse—that our efforts to save our planet might be better spent organizing than remembering to recycle our empty salsa jars. We can take solace in knowing a liberal arts degree isn’t a personal failing that deserves financial punishment. We can accept that, as individuals, we may not be as powerful on our own as we thought, but we also may not be as much to blame for our struggles.
And then, we can mobilize.