Monday, September 21, 2020

The Emmy Ratings Drop | Lefsetz Letter

Viewers 2013-2020

2013: 18 million
2014: 16 mm
2015: 12 mm
2016: 11 mm
2017: 11 mm
2018: 10 mm
2019: 7 mm
2020: 6 mm


You can’t say nobody was home, that there was competition for the flat screen. The truth is we live in an on demand culture and awards shows are not such and if you want the results you can get them instantly when it’s over, even during the show, so why watch it, and if you’re talking about celebrities, we’re overloaded with them online, it’s not like they’re scarce, and movie stars are not even movie stars anymore, never mind flat screen stars, it turns out two-dimensional is passe, we’re looking for a little more depth, or those who admit they’re two-dimensional whores selling out for the bucks. As for Kim Kardashian…she’s now saving inmates and going to law school, she’s got more gravitas than nearly everybody on the flat screen.

But TV drives our culture!

It most certainly does, but that does not mean we’re interested in awards therefore. They blew apart the center, they got rid of the scarcity, we all watch different shows and are quite happy with that, sure, we pay attention to the scuttlebutt, we’re interested in who won, but all these years later the awards shows are industry scrums, the rest of us really don’t care.

Over the past decade we’ve switched to an on demand world. We want to do it when we want to do it. As for live events, there must be something at risk, in the balance, like presidential debates or sporting contests, with ardent fans on the edge of their seats. As for who won television awards? Didn’t they try once to have web awards, i.e. the Webbys? Do they even have those anymore? They never got traction, because it’s the WORLD WIDE Web, and almost nothing is world wide, nothing gets that kind of traction other than the platforms themselves, and the only advantage of winning is the ability to put it on LinkedIn when the truth is if you’re a star you don’t need a LinkedIn page, you’re turning down work, it comes to you, you don’t have to seek it out, everybody knows where to find you, at no time in history have the prominent, what used to be called “celebrities,” been more accessible. Furthermore, the true stars of today, the Tim Cooks, the Mark Zuckerbergs…they’re nearly impossible to get ahold of, they live in a rarefied world only accessible to a few, you might be able to get on reality TV, but you can only dream of having access to the techies, the people who really run this country, and have no doubt, the hoi polloi know who they are.

Hollywood used to be secret, a LaLa land that required you to move to Los Angeles to TRY and become a part of. But then incentives had producers making shows all over the country, the world, and then everybody got 4k with their smartphone and the ability to post on YouTube for free and the magic evaporated. There’s no magic in Hollywood anymore, at most in its productions. As for mainstream fare…today’s youth don’t even have cable, they don’t see the networks and so much more, they borrow their parents’ credentials to watch Netflix and Amazon Prime into their thirties. They can live without everything. That’s the story of today, everything is at your fingertips but you can live without almost any of it, except that which resides in the tiny niche you’re attracted to.

As for myself, if it’s in English I’m probably not interested, unless it was made in the U.K. In America the stars are beautiful and it all works out, the production qualities exceed the stories, this is what happens when you attempt to please the most people, you end up with something that reaches very few, emotionally, intellectually.

And the public is now the arbiter, we hate gatekeepers. We’ll listen to what our friends have to say, we have our own trusted sources, who cares what the biased insiders have to say. Which is one of the reasons there’s no longer a Grammy bump and chances are most of the shows that won last night you have no interest in seeing, even if you missed them the first time around.

I guarantee you most of the shows I watch would not appeal to everybody. Hell, it seems most people can’t even abide subtitles! This is no longer the sixties, when we had no choice, not even the nineties or the first decade of this century, there’s an unlimited number of channels and there’s too much on and if no one else is watching what I’m watching, that’s cool with me.

Hollywood still believes it’s top down. That it’s in control. That the starmakers are insiders, part of the club. But the truth is control is exhibited online. And the younger you are, the less you pay attention to mainstream media and the more your heroes are those outside of traditional television. Jimmy Kimmel? He’s a nice guy, really nice, but if the Emmys wanted to appeal to a broader audience they should have been hosted by Jake Paul, or Ninja, online stars I doubt those in charge of last night’s show are even aware of. The younger generation has options, millennials and Gen-Z do not care whether they watch it on the big screen or on their phone, they’re drawn to content, and it does not even have to have a traditional narrative style. Hell, there isn’t even a television outlet/channel that appeals to these people other than the smorgasbord behemoths of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. Kids have no idea what’s on MTV, and that station stripped “music” from its moniker years ago.

Some things you can’t save. You just scrub them and leap into the future. We’ve had twenty five years of disruption yet the “industry,” and in this case I’m talking about both TV and film, believes everybody should still be interested in their product, in their awards shows which haven’t changed in decades. You’ve got to reinvent it. Maybe everybody in Hollywood should read Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma.”

You can be sure that Reed Hastings has.

Reed Hastings…dared to open movies on the flat screen as opposed to the theatre, dropped all the episodes of a series at once and the old guard still hasn’t stopped complaining, HBO Max and AppleTV+ are still dribbling episodes out once a week. No one goes to the office anymore, and if they do they bring their own water, they don’t hang out at the cooler. You’re lucky if anybody is paying attention at all, and if they are, people want the opportunity to binge, watch it all at once, that’s more satisfying than a week to week experience.

Yes, Reed Hastings won. Because he got ahead of the public. Going to streaming when people still wanted DVDs by mail. But he had the last laugh. Turns out when you can get it instantly, whenever you want, and there’s new product like “House of Cards” and “Narcos” that no one else will make that is superior to the competition, it’s a fait accompli, that’s what the people desire. And, once again, the road to access is easy. You just need a fat pipe and the price of one movie ticket to luxuriate in all kinds of product. Choice…try and purchase a product on Amazon, you’re overwhelmed!

And people are overwhelmed with television too. The old paradigms, the old tropes, the old awards shows just don’t work anymore. Reinvent them or die.


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