"High Science" co-creator goes deep on the death of media
A few from someone who has spent their entire adult life working in online "surveillance" advertising.
1. The major problem here, which leads to things like the Athletic doing layoffs, etc., is there is infinite inventory for online advertising. This has been a growing problem going back to the number of Cable TV channels increasing in numbers. As your audience is more dispersed across different mediums, and your goal is building awareness to as many people as possible, you're going to pay a smaller premium to reach a smaller audience. This is pushed to the extreme online where you can get millions of ad impressions in a day and most of them won't be seen because people don't scroll far enough or ignore or block ads.
2. The way the ad tech world has tried to solve the infinite inventory problem is with targeting. This leads to better profit margins on ads but lower top-line returns. As targeting improves, we've LARGELY just moved toward selling our shit to the people who already bought our shit. We're optimizing for revenue/return, which means we're ignoring showing ads to people who don't yet realize they want whatever we're trying to sell. And this leads to companies spending LESS on advertising, which is bad for anyone that depends on ad revenue for their business model.
3. A huge problem with all of this is that when ads went online everyone involved convinced themselves that everything can be measured. Problem is that, especially for people in tech, we don't understand human behavior worth a damn. We can do an amazing job tracking the exact things an individual does. We can aggregate that at massive scale. But it doesn't answer "why". Like, I regularly drink Four Roses bourbon. It's good, not the best. It's affordable, not the cheapest. Why am I loyal to it? Because I had a real joyful interaction with a distiller there 20 years ago. That employee is probably dead today. The company changed ownership since. Doesn't matter, I still have happy feelings toward them until they do something to drive me away. Consumers have all kinds of random factors like that (at different levels of investment) across so many purchase decisions. It can't all be summed up in a numerical table and repeated.
I could go on for months about this crap. But a pure ad-supported model isn't going to be viable for the majority of companies. The whole ad ecosystem will get BETTER as we have more restrictive privacy laws. For now, it's fucked.
Counterpoint: Advertising was and is shit and corrosive to society and people's well being and the more of it we can kill the better.
Advertising could be at 10% of 1990s levels, and that would still likely be too much.
Yes it sucks that means journalism has died, but it was dying anyway. We need a new model, and a model that isn't "lets just inefficiently waste our ad revenue billions on news because we feel like it". The world has gotten too efficient to rely on such largess.
The pretty clear answer is some sort of priesthood/civil service of the sort journalists used to pretend they were a part of. And then to pay for that with tax dollars. It IS important to have information collectors at local public meetings etc. It is worth taxing for.
But the problem is journalism right now is chocked full of activists, so none of them would actually want to be a part of that priesthood anyway. J-schools have been pumping out culture warriors for a decade plus and the world definitely doesn't need more culture warriors.
As far as television writers pay...Who cares? Most of their output was schlock and people don't want to pay for it anymore. You are just another North Carolina textile worker eaten up by the healthy creative destruction in the economy. No one owes you a job writing TV shows. Grow up, switch industries.
Television writer’s work has been devalued because it brings less value to people’s lives. There’s no bad villain here, when given the option to not subsidize writers’ work they don’t value, aka not have a cable package, people are opting out.
This is quite obvious as other free entertainment options (YouTube and podcasts and social media) have grabbed market share.
It’s sad if that’s one’s career but it’s not a moral issue.
Edit: You (of course) have great chemistry with each other. Excited for the next pod with Matt.
Love Matt. My fellow "wokie!"
Can you write an article or record a podcast on how absurd it is that the most hated Warrior of the past 25 years is now their GM?
Ethan, I hope you read this comment - you might already know your history on this, but if you don't, I think you might find it relevent to your ongoing work. I'm going to post it in a few threads in the hope it catches your eye in one of them.
Klinman's metaphor of the "atomisation" media - the transfer of power from traditional media institutions (groups of people cooperating towards a purpose) to individual influencers - hits 100% of the bullseye. That is exactly what's going on. BUT, Klinman didn't go to the next step and explain that atomisation of everyone is the entire purpose of the ongoing culture war waged against communities since the end of WW II. Let me explain with a potted history.
In the late 1940s a cabal of thinkers, philosopher/novelist Ayn Rand and economist Friedrich Hayek primary among them - let's call them Randians - started promoting the idea that society does not exist, communties do not exist, governments and institutions that constrain freedom should basically not exist; the only reality is the individual, the Market, and individual freedom is paramount above all else.
They started thinktanks and ran with these ideas, seeding them throughout institutions in the US, UK and Commonwealth countries mostly, and got a fair bit done in the 1950s before the Cultural Revolution came along in the 1960s and squashed their ideas (but did not kill them). The political pendulum swung to the left and a different reality: that humans need to cooperate to thrive, and that cooperation must sit alongside and to some extent attenuate individual freedom for society to flourish.
The chaos of the 1970s gave birth to the Neo Conservatives (reborn Randians) of the 1980s, specifically Thatcher who said "there is no such thing as society" and Reagan who didn't say that in words but enacted it through Reaganomics. The Randians were on top again, running their grand lie that everything is about the individual and there is no such thing as society or community.
They proceeded to infect the centre and centre-left with these ideas in the late '80s and 1990s, and Neo Liberalism - practise lip-service to the idea that there still is such thing as a society, but privatise and deregulate everything anyway - was born.
By the early 2000s the Randians had basically won the framing war and thus the culture war and infected most of the free world with the idea that only the individual matters, the Market is and should be all-powerful, and collectivism of any kind is some kind of evil, anti-freedom conspiracy. And the rise of the Influencer in the 2010s is simply this same culture war playing out in the media space.
And why does this matter? Well, you know what is a lot easier to corrupt than a group of people who have a stated purpose for which they have collectivised? Individuals. Individuals are easily bought off. It is the same in two-party democracies - 2 parties are far easier to corrupt than 8 or 10 parties that must work together to govern. So, the next step for the Randians will be to absorb the influencers (or to crush those who resist), further entrenching their ideas through their new influencer mouthpieces, who ironically trumpet themselves as "not part of the System".
Someone commented here months ago something along the lines of: as the world moves more and more towards "efficiency" and optimization, there's an inspiration that's lost from the lack of inefficient moments and reduction in personal interaction. That's what came to mind when listening to the first half of this pod.
Matt's taek on direct sales with big media is spot on. You'll never hear a programmatic ad on LeBatard because they'd never be able to justify the cost of production. The only way a network like that can survive is on direct sales.
Matt has big TJ Miller-as-Erlich-Bachmann energy.
Love the defense of writer's rooms, and then mention liking White Lotus, and then movies as all not needing "traditional" writing rooms w/o mentioning any good shows that had writer's rooms?
MrBeast is killing it attention-wise (also without a formal writer's room in the traditional sense) and he probably only wants an institution behind him, because then he would get more views on his back catalog.
Sure, let's go back to the halcyon days of Frasier + Friends, but who knows what great stuff that system was keeping down?
Most of the shows that we admire with had a writer's room had a "showrunner" that we all identify with was a singular voice that got the machine moving, not the random parts that made up the machine. They all came in from the "outside" b/c the traditional networks didn't support them -- whether it be David Chase, Gilligan, Simon, Milch.
Maybe the machine was broken, and now there's a corrective.
In the Ethanosphere: Wounded/touchy/defeated Lebron lashes out about Nuggets; claims "I’m the SUN. I stay on forever!" (link below).
Interesting. Any reason to think that Lebron will be relevant post-retirement? I realize he's very good at drawing attention to himself, but it all revolves around his basketball career. I don't see what he would make headlines for post -retirement -- except for retirement-related stuff, like HoF induction, jersey retirement, etc.
The backwards-looking stuff will get boring -- there's only so many times we can relive the 2016 finals and his other big moments. The kids on social media will move on and see him as an old man their parents liked. Jordan's basketball accomplishments are still celebrated, but he stopped being "The Sun" after retiring from the Bulls.
Lebron's retirement will be full of awkwardness. Lebron believes his own marketing, thinks he's "bigger than basketball." Reality is: He will become irrelevant after he retires. Maybe the best case scenario for him will be to become a team owner; he would still be less "The Sun" than he expects.
Great episode, I'm warming up to Matt.
It sounds like he's diagnosed the problem fairly well, but his prescription is off. I think he's talking about the intersection of two phenomenons: Pareto principle + creative destruction.
Companies in competing industries are always going to seek efficiency, and I don't think it's helpful to moralize that as something that is bad or worse than the previous system. We all benefit from that ruthless efficiency that Matt decries in one way or another. Matt mentioned that the money has shifted to those who run the platforms and sort of implies he prefers the previous model because at least then the artists were getting a greater share of the pie.
But as media and entertainment gets more efficient the harsh reality sets in that there isn't enough demand for much of the "middle" content that only existed before because it was subsidized. Yes, it's true that we've hollowed out the middle, but that's probably because people only have so much time for entertainment and Succession, Ted Lasso, Stranger Things, etc etc is enough for most people.
It feels like entertainment media is going in the same direction as books: 99% of all readers consumer 1% of books written.
I dunno how your boy Matt can shit on low quality comedy creators on Tiktok when he makes a TV show about smoking weed.
A little over half way through the pod. Love Matt. He is both right and wrong, and glad he was open to correction. He’s right about the the ecosystem tech and our current advertising and media environment is, how it’s only sustainable for a few, and also, I agree with his opinions on the negative implications culturally. However, targeted/programmatic advertising is better, I wouldn’t say culturally, the creative process is better, and overall for our ecosystem, but it’s better for the advertiser. They ultimately have more visibility and can drive higher ROAS and CPA (return on ad spend & cost per action) with a great tech stack for our environment. There are still issues, and this would also benefit the largest advertisers, and brand awareness advertising still exists. But targeted advertising has been more effective for the advertisers, with the right formats even though it may not be better for us as a society
Let it rip, Matt. Don't let don't let it rest in peace.