Thursday, July 30, 2009

Game Changer

Two items in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, July 29, 2009 together portend a big change in the way entertainment, both movies and "serial entertainment" aka series, are produced, distributed, and watched by US and global consumers. Together they have the potential to shake up Hollywood the way Toyota and Honda did in the late 1970's and early 1980's.

First, the article in Marketplace, B3, "Price War Dividing Grocers into Winners and Losers" has big changes in consumer behavior providing ripple effects in supermarket retail. Now, 1 in 3 consumers (that's one third) buy exclusively items on sale, twice as many as 18 months ago, according to market researcher Information Resources Inc. Or, in other words, from 16.5% 18 months ago to 33% of all shoppers today are buying items only on sale. Safeway, which sought to lure shoppers with upscale stores and high-quality fresh produce, reports same-store sales declined 2%. Result? The stores have lowered prices on thousands of items and run heavy discount price promotions. Retailers with low price reputations (paging Wal-Mart) are posting strong same-store sales increases [same-store sales are sales for stores open at least a year] while others are posting losses. The change in consumer behavior is best summed up by a quote from the article:

At Supervalu, the percentage of items purchased on sale rose four percentage points in the past year and items-per-transaction declined, as cash-strapped shoppers sought out the best deals across a variety of retailers. "If the item is not on sale in our stores, it is far more likely to remain on the shelves," Mr. Herkert said.

This is an earthquake in consumer behavior, and has profound implications for the entertainment industry.

Amazon posted weaker than expected second quarter results due to a decline in sales of books, music, dvds, games, and consoles. Analysts expect a 20% decline in video game sales from June 2009 compared to June 2008. Consumers are cutting back on groceries, and on entertainment even further. People have to eat. They can play the same video game another year longer.

The entertainment industry has long ridden a wave of profitability, based on nearly fifty years of almost uninterrupted economic expansion. When recessions have come, they have been limited in duration and scope. This recession promises to be different. More wide-ranging, and longer lasting. Some economists talk of a "lost decade" as with Japan in the 1990's.

A lot of analysts have described the fractured and niche status entertainment as a function of technology. And doubtless the new technologies: FM radio, the Walkman, the VCR, cable and satellite channels, and the Ipod have contributed to fragmented entertainment and the death of mass culture. But just as important is the ability of wealthy consumers to pay premiums for niche entertainment. For example, to receive Logo, the gay channel from Direct TV, costs $55 a month as part of their package sign-up. That's $660 per year. Even if not many sign up for the package, and it's sliced up many ways per each channel in the package, that's still a considerable sum of money. But the business model rests on enough consumers having both enough cash and economic security to spend the money. Just as the Long Tail hypothesis, which states that there is a lot of money to be made selling lots of "non-hits" such as hard to find CDs or mp3 tracks, books, dvds, and so on, rests on the assumption that there will be enough consumers with both willingness to buy non-hit massively popular items, and the money to purchase them. There have been criticisms here on just how accurate the Long Tail model is (i.e. niche content makes aggregators like e-Bay or Amazon money, and perhaps content creators), but the underlying economic model of "Laissez les bons temps rouler" requires, well, good times rolling.

The fundamental attribute of consumer behavior for every good or service purchased during long-lasting recessions is scarcity. Scarcity of consumer dollars, meaning that purchasing a dvd means forgoing purchase of another. This behavior drives consumers towards known "bang for the buck" entertainment, and of course "free" or advertiser supported (or already purchased DVDs) movies and serials are better than paid ones, within acceptable quality bounds. We already see that behavior in supermarket purchasing.

The second item in the Wall Street Journal was the July 29, Personal Journal, D1 story "Video on Cellphones: the Uncut Version". The story concerns bleeding edge cellphone users with expensive setups (using the Sling Media Slingbox and software for select phones) to view satellite or cable tv on their phones. The hardware alone costs between $200 and $300, plus a monthly service charge. Sling Media claims nearly a million people have signed up for the service for the Iphone. Problems remain with this service, besides the price, including battery drain, and jitter due to network latency (best performance is seen in WiFi hotspots using Wifi instead of the cellular network). Sling Media's Iphone service is limited to WiFi hotspots for just that reason. Still, Nielsen estimates 13 million people this year and last watched video from their mobile phones.

Nielsen estimates only 18% of the nations 270 million cell phones, or 48.6 million, are capable of receiving or playing video. That's still a sizeable number. Apple's basic Iphone 3G is $100 (with a year service plan that has it's own monthly fees). Apple has shown flexibility on the low end of its Ipod and Iphone devices. Their Ipod Shuffle is $80, with 4GB. Other manufacturers like Palm and Nokia are capable of producing low cost video phones as well.

It's highly likely that some manufacturer will produce cheap, sub $100 video-capable phones. It might be Apple, it might be Nokia, it might be someone else. Perhaps even Sony. But suddenly, the phone becomes a way to play not just music, which many phones can now do, but video. Which will change the way video is viewed and distributed the way the Ipod and Itunes changed the music business.

Of course convenience will matter too. Many consumers will purchase from Amazon's mp3 downloads since they lack Digital Rights Management, making use over multiple computers and Ipods easier, but Itunes still predominates as a means to manage Ipods and media. Some estimates place Amazon at around 8% of all music downloads in 2008 while Amazon claims to be #2 behind Itunes in downloads.

Of course, video Ipods have been around since 2005, and the Archos and other players had video before that. But then the Diamond Rio and Saehan (Korea) devices came out in 1998, but did not really catch on until the first Ipod in October 2001. A lag of nearly three years, and in boom times as well. It's certain that during a recession, most of the 270 million phones will be replaced only as needed. But it's certainly probable that a basic phone with adequate video capacity could be marketed at prices even cash strapped consumers will pay, and at screen sizes that make video viewing comfortable enough. After all, CD and records and even cassette tapes have superior audio quality compared to mp3s (which samples only part of the digital audio file), and consumers like listening to mp3s on Ipods just fine over expensive stereo systems.

What cheap video phones will do, particularly coupled with a convenient service or software for transferring video to phones, is allow people to watch video entertainment whenever and wherever they want. Much like the MP3, Ipod, and Itunes did that for music. This will not happen all at once, in a "big bang" any more than the changes in the music industry happened all at once in 1998 or 2001. But it will happen.

What this means, if most people consume video entertainment, apart from live sports and other band-width hogging video streams, from a stored file on their video phone, is that distribution will no longer require huge sums of capital. To get movies into theaters, apart from major marketing efforts costing between $30-40 million, prints (or pirating friendly digital copies) must be sent to theaters. Even with digital files, this is a major pain and can require expensive courier services or leased fiber optic lines for high-speed transfer. To get a tv series into a cable or broadcast network also implies a lot of capital, not just for the series to be made but the overhead for the network.

The new Itunes-like distribution model also changes consumer behavior. One study of an un-named UK music service claimed that 80% of all music tracks sold no copies over a one year period. Most of Amazon's sales in music downloads comes from popular acts, and then just a few popular songs. The same holds true for Itunes.

Which means, given scarce consumer dollars, it's winner take all. A sale of an episode of a serial, or movie, means no sale for a competitor as consumers have to choose. The way around this of course, given quite likely the difficulty of streaming video content over even the most advanced 3G cell phone network, and the clumsiness of using WiFi hotspots, is to make content "free" but advertiser supported.

With the ads "unstrippable."

Many, many consumers have stopped listening to radio, and use their Ipods to play music. The music changed from being played over the radio, for free, to downloaded at modest prices. Particularly with compressed video files, low cost or no-cost video entertainment is probably the wave of the future. With "ads" consisting of massive product placement. Not just products or services, but companies playing a major role. Such as Federal Express in "Cast Away."

In the near future, it's not at all implausible, that consumers could download free adventures in a serial format of an investigator working for Farmer's Insurance, or a Doctor for a hospital group, or an airline pilot flying for United. The ad being part of the plot itself. Obviously in that case, the more artful and entertaining efforts will crowd out the blatantly bad ones. But nothing beats "free." Which leads to another effect, long term. Price cuts for DVDs and other forms of video entertainment (downloads). Hollywood has long tried to keep price floors on DVD and other ways of viewing movies and tv series, and it's likely that advertisers seeking to create more potent ads can undercut not just Television broadcasting (both cable and over the air) but also studio movies.

None of this will happen overnight, but it will happen. If I had to bet, I'd bet on Apple delivering a "recession beater" Iphone with a price point of around $50, with decent video capabilities, and content creators rushing to provide first cheap content for such a phone, and then "free" content with product placement as described above. Because the market for an always-around video phone plus existing Video Ipods will be irresistible.

That in turn will mean lower margins for everyone in Hollywood. Stars will still make obscene amounts of money, but the margins will be thinner, and the ability to bank on a few mega-profit movies like the Transformers series will be impacted. Since a lower margin means less vanity projects that will lose money (such as "Milk" which probably lost money with a marketing budget of around $30 million and only partial revenue from both foreign box office -- rule of thumb is half the gross revenue goes to the studio -- and similar numbers domestically outside the seventy-five percent kept by the studio in the opening weekend) can be effectively carried by the big budget films that make money. Even Hollywood, it seems, will run out of other people's money eventually.
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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

NBC and SyFy: GLAAD to Meet You!

Two recent items show how desperate, and clueless, the broadcast and cable networks have become. First, the painfully bad "Heroes" on NBC will have star Hayden Panettiere taking on a lesbian role, capitalizing on the acclaim and popularity of Lindsay Lohan. To be fair, the comic book version of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" did that as well, and the stunt seems to have resulted in ... no appreciable jump in sales. Cliches such as lesbian kisses and storylines don't work (shows that have tried it such "the OC" and "Buffy" and "Ally McBeal" found no ratings jump). This will, however, make NBC more "GLAAD" friendly as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation will increase it's score-card next season for NBC. Lesbian stunts have a history in broadcast TV going back to the 1990's. The evidence is in: the stunts don't pull in viewers.

Next, SyFy Network, in a continuing effort to repel any remaining male viewers, has announced that they are adding three new gay characters.

When the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation released its annual Network Responsibility Index, Syfy was among the networks receiving "Failing" grades for their depiction of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) characters.

Looking ahead, however, Syfy's Stern touts two new series and the diversity depicted within.

"On Stargate Universe, one of the main female characters, we discover, is a lesbian and has a wife at home. It's a pretty important facet of who that character is," he says. ER alum Ming-Na plays intergalactic diplomat Camille Wray, while 24's Reiko Aylesworth recurs as her wife.

Similarly the Galactica prequel spin-off Caprica has at least two main characters depicted as being in gay relationships. "[One] is a 'goodfella'-type, and we discover in a nonchalant way that he is gay, with a husband," Stern says. "It was very interesting to me to take what is traditionally a very heterosexual role in an organization that we think of as being extremely homophobic, and put a gay character in that world in a very normalized way."

The other aformentioned Caprica character is part of a communal marriage featuring "heterosexual as well as homosexual couplings."

Syfy is not even trying to maintain male viewers. Straight men don't seem to find entertaining, gay mafiosas and even less, "communal marriages." Ratings are less important obviously, to Cable and Broadcast execs, than the good graces of groups like GLAAD. This is because, network execs are not concerned with ratings, as much as their next job, which will be producing somewhere. Pressure groups such as GLAAD can create enormous stinks, and negative publicity, limiting an exec's future employment as a producer at various production companies, and his ability to find partnerships. Particularly with Gays having a disproportionate influence, compared to their numbers in the population at large, in producing film and television.

Thus, TV and films are increasingly produced not to create an audience or make money, but create jobs for executives who will be joining production companies afterwards.

This is a characteristic of a "bubble economy" with most energy being spent on managers and executives and middle men looking for their next job or money-making assignment, and not actually making money on the current job. Like all bubbles, this too will come to an end, and there are signs coming that the traditional way people see Television and watch movies, i.e. TV sets at home and movie screens at the cinema or cinema-plex, will change radically. This in addition to piracy, at home and abroad, eroding DVD sales volume and prices, and pressed, budget wary consumers, has the potential for winnowing out networks like Syfy or NBC.

Currently, NBC (which unsurprisingly owns SyFy) doesn't care about ratings as much as cable operator fees. Cable and satellite operators must pay SyFy a fee for every subscriber who watches SyFy.* [*I goofed on this one, thanks to poster "Pro Male" for pointing this out, rather cable operators must pay for any household that purchases a package that has the cable channel on it. Naturally this makes being part of the limited basic package a bonus since everyone subscribing will get it. Examples being Discovery Network, USA, etc. It's not a pay-per-viewer, but rather per household that subscribes to the channel, and SyFy is as far as I know, a basic package in most cable and satellite operators offerings. Thanks again to poster "Pro Male." ] This income stream has been remarkably robust and growing, but all good things come to an end. Technology threatens to drop a load of bricks on the delicate model that Hollywood depends on, leaving aside basic economic issues such as keeping cable in a recession for many consumers.

And no, it won't be the "Long Tail" either. More on that soon.
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Future of TV is on the Internet

One of the interesting things about watching the big four networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) fall into oblivion is how reminiscent they are of GM, Chrysler, and Ford falling into irrelevance (though to be fair, Ford Motor Company’s new CEO, Allan Mulally, seems to have a clue and has guided Ford Motor to a net profit in Q2 of 2009 and a predicted yearly operating profit in 2011.

Nevertheless, the same errors that Detroit made in the 1970s through the 2000’s, are occurring again in the Broadcast Networks. Detroit offered it’s customers little reliability, bad quality, expensive cars to own and operate, and cars with poor gas mileage. The latter generated a lot of attention, but as the appetite for large SUVs, Trucks, and muscle cars in good times and cheap gas indicated, Detroit’s problem was not primarily the failure to make a Toyota Yari. Rather, it was taking their customers for granted and shoveling out shoddy merchandise on the theory that no one could compete with them globally or locally.

Just as Japan’s automotive companies, particularly Toyota and Honda, hungry for sales, and backed by an aggressive engineering team, took on and largely defeated Detroit, so too will Hollywood’s Broadcast Networks fall, to lean and hungry outsiders. The key to this will be the internet. It won’t be, as Glen Reynolds suggests, an army of Davids, but rather State-sponsored alternatives to Hollywood producing low-cost, more mainstream entertainment, delivered over the internet.

In short, the internet allows players besides broadcast networks to deliver serial entertainment just like the Big Four Networks, to more people, cheaper, and with a broader appeal.

First, it's important to recall what the networks were all about. NBC and CBS were originally founded as radio broadcast networks, providing news, entertainment, sports, and other broadcasts during the late twenties and the Depression. During tough times, the radio broadcasters found advertisers flocked to them, as people could almost always afford listening to the radio, even over the movies. ABC was created in 1943 from the NBC Blue Network. Fox was famously created by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation in 1986.

But all the networks run on the old radio network model. News, sports, and special programming are the icing on the cake, the real money came from advertisers, who either ran ads nationally or had sponsored "product placement" shows aimed at all sorts of people: men, women, children, and of course, housewives. Situation Comedies (Fibber McGee, Jack Benny), soap operas, and hour long dramas like Gunsmoke. Yes, "Jake and the Fatman" star William Conrad was the original Matt Dillion, not James Arness.

The model was very simple, create entertainment for as cheap as possible, that had a wide a following as possible, and sell ads on the broadcasts for as much as possible.

Or, as the Wall Street Journal reported, in a story about Ben Silverman's departure from NBC:

For decades, broadcast networks spent huge sums to create shows that would be watched by millions of Americans tuning in after dinnertime.

But the advent of cable television and the VCR in the 1980s and the subsequent rise of the Internet, videogames and digital video recorders have fractured the TV audience and undermined the broadcast business.

We'll see shortly how ridiculous that statement really is. But the business model is pretty simple. Create cheap content, that appeals to as many people as possible, and sell ads running at breaks in the content.

The serial nature of course, of first radio and then television, allows more creative stories, more character-driven drama (and comedy), and most importantly for a broadcast, keeps audiences tuning in week after week to see what happens next to characters they love.

This is a simple, though difficult to execute model, that other people can copy. Now that the internet has flattened the capital requirements needed to reach millions of people.

Prior to the internet, creating a network required big bucks and the ability to sustain a decade long billion dollar loss. Which is what Fox sustained from 1986-1996 in it's first ten years. Neither WB nor UPN, in their ten year run, were able to sustain these kinds of losses and both had to be merged into the CW. The huge barriers into serialized content (i.e. broadcast networks, with heavy costs for affiliates, promotions, management, licensing, etc.) kept competitors at bay. Even upstart syndicators like the folks behind "Babylon 5," the PTEN or Prime Time Entertainment Network, could not compete, even with Warner Brothers and Chris-Craft behind them. Independently syndicated shows like Pamela Anderson's "VIP" did little better, often airing at odd hours such as 1 am Monday mornings.

However, time shifting habits created by the VCR and DVR, and helped along by Hulu and networks own streaming videos of shows, have created the ability to bypass these expensive requirements.

Now, anyone with the capital to pay for streaming bandwidth, can have in effect, their own TV network. They need only have content and agreements to sell ads within the content, as Hulu does. Advertisers love online advertising, since they know exactly how many people watch (no more guesstimation by Nielsen) and their geographic location. They also get immediate feedback on any click-through ads. It's also, of course, cheaper.

It's quite likely that some place, either Wellington or Auckland New Zealand, or Sydney Australia, or Vancouver British Columbia, or Toronto Canada, will start to compete with Hollywood. Making hour long drama series significantly cheaper, at least half the cost of the current $3-$4 million per episode cost in the Los Angeles area. At this cost, say $1.5 million per episode, it's far cheaper to put together a three episode "pilot-plus" for say, $4.5 million, less than the cost of most independent films, and sell both ads against a streaming internet feed (for free) and downloads from Itunes, or websites (likely the content creators). The only expense that is major therefore is marketing and publicity. Late night talk shows constantly need guests and content, so much of that marketing can be done for the cost of hotel rooms and air fare for content stars.

The advantage is even greater if regional or national governments, seeking to promote job base, provide low or no-interest loans, tax breaks and the like to further reduce costs, and critically, alternative centers to Hollywood break both the pilot model and the deficit financing model.

In the pilot model, broadcast networks order up many (expensive) pilots, and typically pick only a small fraction, something on the order of 25%, for production, generally between 9 and 13 episodes. Depending on ratings, a series will be picked up for a full season, of 22 hour long episodes, or canceled. Even pilots that never even make it to the filming process can be quite pricey, costing upwards of a million dollars for scripts, consultants, market research and the like. Pilot costs have been the bane of network TV from the beginning, and so an alternative that quickly and cheaply makes content, say three episodes, and recoups most of the cost by selling advertising on the web and downloads, has a big economic advantage as far as cost, particularly as networks order more and more series from their own in-house production studios.

The deficit financing, of course, refers to the ugly truth that network license fees, even for their own, in-house productions, cover only part of the actual cost of producing a show. Say a show runs only 9 episodes, and costs $4 million per episode. With the network license fees covering only $2 million per episode. That's a net loss of $18 million for the production company. Some of that loss can be recouped by DVD sales, but not much. DVD sales are down, in every segment. In the alternative model, content creators would only create small batches, say three episodes, and depending on response would either abandon the project or move forward with assurance that the project will make money. Currently, content creators (the studios) have to bet that the series will make it to five seasons, the magic 100 episode mark, for syndication in the US and foreign markets, where the real money is (or was). The Syndication market is under stress, as many of the cable outlets run (as noted Hollywood business blogger Furious D observes) their own parent corporation studio outlet, the most famous being the Law and Orderen running all over TNT, USA, Sleuth, etc. Moreover there is a window on that market, you don't see 1980's shows such as Miami Vice or Hunter running in syndication, and even the ubiquitous "Monk" has likely a limited time to run in syndication.

The new model, in short, would not require huge capital to run deficits in the uncertain hope of profits five years later, or require costly pilots most of which are unsuccessful and net drains on income.

But just as important in producing lower cost content, is producing more broadly appealing content. Consumers don't seem to be very willing to pay premiums for entertainment, for example, Video Game sales are expected to decline nearly 20% from last year. HBO famously has only a third of TV households, despite being available for nearly all of them. In order to succeed in serial entertainment (or blockbuster movies for that matter), it's far better to have more viewers than less. Particularly since the number of young (White) people is declining. This is particularly true in a recession/depression. When consumer dollars are tight, and free (i.e. advertiser supported) beats pay. The HBO model of hip-edgy female oriented programming seems doomed in the recession.

The model for the successful Hollywood beating alternative looks something like this:

The alternative produces content that is about half the cost to produce by the Broadcast networks in LA or NYC.
The alternative has far less overhead, and thus no affiliate costs, licensing/regulatory costs, no pricey executive talent. It's Administrative costs are a fraction of the Broadcast networks.
The alternative has far less clueless, "next-job" execs like Ben Silverman, who are looking for their next job and don't care about being #1.
The alternative is open to new ideas as long as the ideas help them capture a lot of viewers of streaming content and a high percentage of those purchasing downloads (or DVDs).
The alternative does not rely on fragile, open to economic vulnerability models such as upscale ad viewers or cable subscriber revenues (as likely, subscribers cancel cable as the recession wears on and expenses are cut to the bone).

Which brings us to the current state of broadcast television. First, ad revenues are down. CBS, Fox, and ABC have done deals of about 3% less for ad rates than a year ago. NBC has done about 6-7% less than a year ago. Commenter on the WSJ story "Jeff Switzer" noted:

It seems to me that the value of an exposure to a viewer would decline faster than the decline in viewers. It seems that advertisers would want enough viewers to generate a "buzz", that is, to have viewers talking with each other about shows and perhaps the ads. As the number of viewers drop the number of these buzz encounters will drop even faster. Because of this effect, as well as the continuing basic decline in the number of viewers, the networks appear to be in a business "death spiral."

Jeff Switzer is correct. The broadcast networks are in a death spiral. Click on the "comments" tab in the link to see his comment. WSJ has the nasty habit of cutting off content after a day or so, trust me on this, the dead tree edition (Marketplace, July 27, 2009, P1) contains these numbers, i.e the declines in ad rates.

Here's (from the Dead Tree WSJ Edition) the commitments that the Big Four Networks got from the "upfronts" in May:

[Click to Enlarge, courtesy of the WSJ]

It takes magnificent incompetence, idiocy, and sheer stupidity to lose viewers during a recession in free, over the air broadcasting, at a time when consumers are pinching every penny and canceling pricey cable service. Yet the broadcast networks continue to show a slide in viewers. That's what comes from having execs who boast, that they don't need to be #1, in terms of viewers.

Fortunately, the broadcast networks don't lack in people able to produce just such incompetent results:

[Click to enlarge, courtesy of the WSJ]

If you'll notice, the only network to produce an uptick in viewers, prior to last (2007-2008) season was CBS, which had slightly more viewers in the recessionary 2008-2009 season. All other networks posted declines from the prior season. NBC and ABC posted particularly sharp declines, from the baseline of 2005.

This is largely because CBS has decided, "what the hell, they're older viewers, but they count too." CBS famously skews older in viewers age, link here, with DVR 7 days viewing being 53, ABC at 49, NBC at 48, Fox at 43, and the CW netlet at 34 years of age. However, beggars can't be choosers, and with the recession, pinched consumers, much of the wisdom (i.e. male and older viewers don't count) is so much idiocy). Particularly given the paucity of younger Whites, covered ad nauseum on this blog and elsewhere, and the need for advertisers to reach every possible consumer with their advertising dollar, in a likely decades long recession.

To see just how badly the networks perform, against the total (male and female potential audience, consider the data at the Census Bureau here. Taking the White Alone and Black Alone, and adding them together (Nielsen provides the top ten for "everyone" and Blacks, and Hispanics segregated, Blacks and Whites watch basically the same shows, Hispanics watch Spanish Language shows, go ahead, check it yourself) you get the following chart, compiled against the 18-48 viewership above (that is, adding White Alone, both sexes, and Black Alone, both sexes, from 20-49, since the Census Bureau does a four year age-bracket):

[Click to Enlarge]

That is of course, a pathetic performance. Against a total population of 117 million, 18-49, Black and White together with both sexes, the Big Four networks can manage only 12.6% total of the potential audience. Pathetic.

For too long, Broadcast TV execs have justified declining audiences on the VCR, the DVR, cable fragmentation, the internet, and video games. All undoubtedly eroded the dominant position of Broadcast Networks. But to 12.6% aggregate? That stretches the boundary of credibility. More likely, TV became a gay and female ghetto.

For example, GLAAD is out with it's new scorecard on TV networks. A full 42% of all characters on HBO's entertainment shows are gay or lesbian. About ABC, GLAAD had this to say:

Also singled out in the report is ABC's drama "Brothers & Sisters," which features three regular gay characters, as well as the network's "Grey's Anatomy," which has a bisexual woman among the leads.
Overall, "GLAAD analysts found that ABC consistently offers the most fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the five broadcast networks," the survey said.

ABC also boasts two of the most prominent gay characters on a new fall series with comedy "Modern Family."

The CW, as expected, was rated #2 among broadcast networks, Fox increased it's gay characters to 11% with gay characters on "House" and "Bones." CBS (not surprising for an older-viewer friendly network) was the least gay of all the networks.

TV execs, and content creators, were happy to chase GLAAD awards, and upscale, yuppie viewers, sacrificing total number of viewers for wealthier ones. The Brandon Tartikoff strategy again. Which works as long as the economy marches ever upwards, and there is an increasing amount of young, wealthy viewers that advertisers will spend premiums on.

As we can see, that's not the case. Networks were forced to reduce ad rates between 3 and 7 percent this year. Next year might see even further declines. Networks have huge fixed costs and stupidity at the executive level, leading to things like 24% declines at the NBC-Universal second Quarter earnings, excluding one-time items, despite income growth in cable operations. [If the link goes away, it's on Marketplace, July 28, P1] NBC in the article calls itself a cable-broadcaster, but it's cable business is vulnerable to pressed consumers canceling cable service. Therefore, no fees transmitted from consumer to cable operator to cable service.

Not even investment in cable properties like SyFy (rebranded to appeal to women), and USA, Bravo, etc. can save NBC from the need (as Jeff Zucker agreed) for hit shows.

But a big organization like NBC, or even CBS (the least badly managed of the networks) cannot turn around very quickly, it's like steering a container ship. More nimble competitors, probably with tax breaks and even loans from friendly governments looking to stimulate employment and export earnings, can produce entertainment serial content for half the price. The internet allows distribution via streaming, advertiser supported video, for sampling, and perhaps downloads or DVDs or both, with "extras" via payment, likely for less than traditional TV series downloads or DVD box sets.

But likely the biggest advantage is the ability to make content without worrying about how many gay characters each show has, to make GLAAD happy or win an award. [Tru Blood drew 3.7 million viewers, in contrast to it's debut of 1.4 million in it's first season. The highest for any HBO show since the Sopranos (which had it's finale at 11 million), but compared to American Idol with a high of 37 million viewers nothing to shout about.]

Since the new way to profitability in a prolonged recession or depression is not how cool a series is to a few well heeled taste-makers, but how well advertisers can sell the basics: soap, beer, food, and clothes. It's a Wal-Mart, instead of a Neiman-Marcus world.
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Monday, July 6, 2009

Failure of the Media Part Three: NBC and the End of the Brandon Tartikoff Strategy

In my post Failure of the Media Part One I discussed how demographic changes, mostly the lack of young Whites, made the youth-oriented Indie 103.1 FM a failure, compared to the older, stodgier, but more profitable AM talk radio, oriented towards an older, White male audience. In my post, Failure of the Media Part Two, I covered the sad, lingering death of the LA Times, intent on becoming the print version of NPR without the massive government subsidies. Now, I'll cover the sad decline of broadcast TV networks, with a special emphasis on the near total decline of NBC.

In all three cases, key decision makers have deluded themselves about demographic reality, and basic economics.

If Indie 103.1 failed because it was not 1983 any more, and there were not enough (White) youth, and the LA Times slowly sinks underwater because the attempt to become a print version of KCRW was doomed to be a money loser from the start, broadcast TV networks, and NBC in particular, fall from grace is far more puzzling.

Because once upon a time, the Brandon Tartikoff strategy actually worked for NBC. When Tartikoff was running it. Boiled down to it's essentials, it meant giving shows without much audience appeal that were well written, acted, and produced, several years to find an audience, and allowing some lower-rated shows (Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, the first few years of Seinfeld) to stay on the schedule as long as they drew high advertising rates based on wealthy yuppie audiences. For the time, the early 1980's, this was new. But a critical component of Tartikoff's strategy was shows with broad, popular appeal. Tartikoff was instrumental in launching shows like Miami Vice, the Cosby Show, Knight Rider, and Family Ties. Not to mention the A-Team.

Now, NBC's schedule is among the lowest rated of the broadcast networks, excluding the teen-girl oriented CW. Even it's head, Ben Silverman, has given up on the idea of becoming the number one rated network. Moves such as canceling the acclaimed "Life" and moving the similarly acclaimed "Chuck" to a thirteen episode run in the Spring of 2010 were something Tartikoff would not have done. Nor would the emphasis on cheap, disposable reality shows that make money on low ratings be part of the old Tartikoff strategy. Instead, NBC is loading up on cheap, female-appealing reality shows, and running a Jay Leno hour-long talk show at 10 pm every weeknight. Only Fox still programs new shows on Saturdays, "Cops" and "America's Most Wanted." NBC abandoned Saturdays in the late 1990's after the failure of the XFL stunt (a weird cross between football and Wrestling created by WWE head Vince McMahon). CBS and ABC had stopped running new shows several years earlier.

NBC is not alone, of course, in having problems with profitability. Ratings leader CBS has shown reduced operating revenue, compared with years before, prior to the recession. Fox, ABC, and the CW are also hurting. ABC canceled the series "Samantha Who?" with star Christina Applegate, due to an inability to reduce costs. According to Deadline Hollywood Daily, half a million per episode had to be cut from the budget to get the show renewed. It's possible that CBS made a similar decision in canceling the excellent "Eleventh Hour" which got good ratings.

The reason for the move to cut costs is clear: the networks, pretty much all of them, don't believe they can get enough viewers. Probably most of the networks don't want to do the things required to gain viewers. Since it would be too uncomfortable for network executives dealing with producers. NBC's Silverman, after all, was a reality show producer himself before becoming head of NBC programming, and will surely return to that once he leaves NBC, as is true for most programming heads. [Former "Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Hill Street Blues" producer Grant Tinker became Tartikoff's boss at NBC.] Programming heads don't like to pressure producers outside their comfort zones, knowing the places can and will be reversed some day soon. Today's programming heads and producers are relatively happy creating content that is "edgy and hip" and aimed almost exclusively at women 18-34, the female youth demographic, so desired by advertisers. It was a strategy that worked reasonably well, during boom times, but is out of touch, and dangerously so, with economic reality today.

It's useful to compare today's America, and state of television, with that of the America in the 1960's. It's true that in the 1960's, there were only three broadcast networks, as opposed to five today (Fox and CW did not exist then). But there are about 100 million more people today in the US than there were during the 1960's. In 1970, the population of the US was about 203 million. Today, America has about 306 million. This increase of about 103 million people amounts to about roughly a 50% increase from 1970 levels. The Beverly Hillbillies drew about 60 million viewers during it's peak years. Today, with 50% more people, the highest rated show on broadcast TV is "American Idol" with about 25-30 million viewers. By contrast, HBO which is available to almost every household in the US, has only a third of households subscribing, which amounts to about 8-9 million viewers for the Sopranos, and 11.9 million viewers for the finale. Only the Superbowl, with ratings of around 100 million viewers or so has accomplished keeping near pace with population increases. One would imagine, that all things being equal, shows that were popular would be posting viewers in the 90 million range (about a 50% increase from the 60 million that the Beverly Hillbillies drew). This is not so. Even during the 1980's, before Fox and the CW, and widespread cable TV, the A-Team only drew 20 million viewers at it's height. [Fox first broadcast in October, 1986]

Even during the early 1980's, viewership had declined, despite the lack of alternatives (no Fox, no CW, no UPN nor WB networks, no cable inroads). A cable show like HBO's True Blood generates only 1.4 million viewers per showing. Broadcast network executives and producers argue that viewer erosion is a function of audience fragmentation, but clearly viewers were not watching TV, by the droves (nearly 50% less compared to the late 1960's) in the 1980's, comparing say Beverly Hillbillies (60 million viewers) to the A-Team (20 million viewers). This without cable, Fox, CW, UPN/WB, and so on. Even with cable competition, the numbers don't add up, i.e. there's just not enough total viewers of stuff like True Blood to account for the "missing" viewers. Moreover, cable networks like HBO, Showtime, USA, Sci-Fi, and others run their schedules in the Summer months, precisely to avoid competition with the broadcast networks, who have re-runs or unwatchable reality shows during that time.

The missing viewers, are of course, men. The Long Tail Blog has old data from the 2004-5 controversy over the "missing" male viewers reported by Nielsen. [Changes in methodology in 2004 had a 10% decline in male viewership 18-34, which was "adjusted" back to previous viewership levels in 2005.] Nevertheless, TV is a mostly gay-female ghetto. Sitcoms can have up to 80% of their viewers female, as a quick look at shows like "Friends" or "How I Met Your Mother" would confirm.

Look for example at ABC's 2008 Fall Schedule:

Number of shows (Primetime): 16.
Number female skewing: 16.

NBC's Fall Schedule has:

Number of shows (Primetime): 18 (I'm not counting the Saturday edition of Dateline NBC).
Number of female skewing: 13 (note, the five shows that are male skewing include the two Sunday Night Football shows, the pre-game and the Sunday Night Football.)

CBS's Fall 2008 Schedule is here:

Number of shows: 22.
Number of female skewing: 21 (I'm including only NUB3RS as not female skewing, and even that might be pushing it, if you added NCIS, Without A Trace, and the Unit, you would get to 18 as female skewing. My standard for not female skewing is a "male" show like the A-Team, i.e. few female roles, not much concern for relationships, other things women viewers like to see).

Fox's Fall 2008 Schedule is here:

Number of shows: 17 (I'm counting the Saturday shows of Cops and America's Most Wanted).
Number of female skewing shows: 15.

CW's Schedule for Fall 2008 is here.

Number of shows: 10.
Number of female skewing shows: 8 (I'm counting Smallville and Supernatural as at least not female skewing shows, they are weird hold-overs from the WB days).

This gives us the following graphs:

[Click Image to enlarge]

As you can see, NBC had the most shows that were "Men Friendly" in the sense of not being female skewing (such as say, ABC's "Desperate Housewives") with five, two of those related to Sunday Night Football (the pre-game show and the game broadcast, respectively). Moreover, even shows such as "Heroes," and "Chuck," and "My Own Worst Enemy" had substantial female-friendly elements (soap-opera style relationship stuff, and so on). NBC, moreover, did not do very well with it's line-up of shows. "My Own Worst Enemy" was canceled fairly quickly, and "Life," "Chuck," and "Knight Rider" failed to catch on (though "Chuck" was renewed).

[Click Image to enlarge]

The percentages were overall, fairly dismal. Men make up approximately 50% of the population, but only NBC cracked 25% of their shows being "Male Friendly" and that was a function of the Sunday Football broadcasts. One could argue about how to classify such CBS shows as "Without A Trace," or the various CSI-en, or "Eleventh Hour," but even adding them to the male-friendly mix would not approach 50% for the network, let alone total.

What's wrong with the television networks is the lack of men. Men are the missing viewers. Even counting cable systems, we have the following female-oriented cable networks: Lifetime, Lifetime Movie Network, WE, Oxygen, Bravo, Out, HGTV, Food Network, TLC, A&E, HBO, Showtime, Fine Living, Travel Channel, and Tru. That's a total of 15. Male oriented cable networks include: History Channel, ESPN, NFL Network, National Geographic, Discovery, USA, and Spike. That's a total of 7 networks. As we can see regarding broadcast networks, ALL the current broadcast networks are oriented overwhelmingly towards women.

This emphasis on female viewers has done two things. First, it has made entertainment dull, predictable, and PC-driven. Pushing the message that say, criminals (like the ones always breaking into the house "protected" by the Brinks Home security system in the series of commercials) are mostly mid thirties White guys who look middle class:

Or the endless supply of middle aged, White guys who probably resemble the ex-husbands of the script writers (Law and Order-en family of shows is notorious for this). Instead of the depressing reality of violent crime committed by Blacks and Hispanics. The White female audience demands PC and Multiculturalism, not just because those populations are totemized as some "Magical Negro" (ala Spike's Lee's famous essay decrying the dehumanizing effects of movies such as "Legend of Bagger Vance" where Black characters have magical powers ... that they use to spiritually enlighten White protagonists). But also because women find most "beta" males tedious, as workplace competitors, and bearers of unwanted sexual attention. Thus TV gives women the wrong ideas about who are the risky ones (hint: it's not the boring mid-thirties White guys) for crime and violence, and in asserting the PC dogma, boring and predictable.

Television, after all, has advantages over movies. Longer running times allows complex story lines (about 15 and a half hours for a 22 episode season, compared to 2 hours for most movies). Television is usually dominated by writer-producers, allowing creative continuity. Lacking big budgets for Michael Bay type special effects, television relies more on character than explosions and CGI. Being free or mostly free, television can reach far more people per year than all but the biggest of movies. The actors, too, can often be more skilled, selected for the ability to make the audience like and care about the lead over years, rather than tabloid celebrity. Particularly in a recession, television should be attractive, given the ability to reach far more people with less marketing costs than a big budget movie.

If Television producers and writers were forced out of their female-pandering comfort zone, to create more male-oriented dramas and sitcoms, or at least "male-friendly" in that shows did not have many elements that turn off male viewers (primarily female views of men: "beta losers" and bad-boy winners, along with soap opera emphasis on "doomed love" relationships with bad-boy characters) the creative output would be higher, on average, because those crutches would be gone. More mature, complex, and intelligent characters would be created, with an emphasis on fun. You would also see a net improvement in the kinds of social information given. Far less "evil White guy" villains, and more accuracy in social information.

This relentless focus on female audiences to the point where some networks have no male-friendly shows on them at all (ABC) is of course driven by advertisers, who have traditionally felt that women consumers make most household purchases. As marriage is delayed, or never happens at all, and more and more women are single mothers, and divorce rates remain high, this assumption is seriously flawed. A relic more of the 1960's than today. The food magazine Cook's Illustrated ten years ago had only 17% male readership, today it is over 50%, according to the Wall Street Journal (print edition only). Anyone shopping at the Supermarket will find Dads with kids in tow, doing the shopping and decision making. The female-only strategy, which has been a long-time in coming (as seen in the huge drop-off in ratings from the 1960's to 1980's, long before cable and the internet and video games), was sustainable in good times, but clearly not in bad times. Advertising revenue is down, substantially down, from good times. The female viewership, not the male viewership, is fragmented and hotly competed over. Much hyped CW series "Gossip Girl" for example, can get 1.9 million viewers for new episodes. Meanwhile men have sports, some shows on USA and Sci-Fi network, and the History Channel. That's about it.

Attempts to be "edgy" with hip-female oriented shows such as the remake of Battlestar Galactica have not been ratings winners, for reasons original series star Dirk Benedict explained. [Read the link, it's hilarious.] Two to 1.7 million viewers is "Gossip Girl" territory. Lower even than the Dollhouse finale. [Clearly Dollhouse was renewed because execs want to be on-set for Eliza Dushku's scenes in skimpy costumes, even if the audience could care less.]

NBC's strategy of pursuing the lowest cost possible schedule, and damn the ratings, is doomed to failure. Silverman, coming from a reality producer's perspective, can't understand the fixed costs of a broadcast network, and the coming danger to Television. Broadcast networks, after all, are simply a way for content to be delivered, at the same time, to affiliate stations. The TV networks are merely the outgrowth of the original radio networks, which sought to provide national news, sports, and entertainment through the network model. Just as the LA Times started to decline long before the internet, so too has television viewership. But now the challenge in particular for NBC is worse. It's not just the recession and advertising market being down considerably. Or the brutal competition for female viewers among all the cable and broadcast networks.

The internet allows content creators to deliver serial shows either streaming on-demand, for free, or pay-per-download (the Itunes model), or indeed both. Amazon and Itunes both will gladly sign agreements for content providers, for downloads. The cost to the content producer is relatively low. Even setting up a website like Hulu (or piggybacking on that existing site, and those like it) is not that expensive, far less than say the marketing budget for the film "Sideways," and the former is a cost that can be expensed against many shows.

The future is unlikely to be in broadcast television. There was, for a while, a brief shining opportunity to put content on broadcast television (as a promotional opportunity), on the web as advertiser supported free streaming video, and pay-per-download Itunes/Amazon content, all supported by the vertically integrated mega-media corporations. But predictably, executives looked to their next jobs with content producers, and assumed the years ahead will look like the years behind. That's a dangerous assumption, in all likelihood.

Television is likely to become even more a gay-female ghetto, ala ABC, with almost no men watching it (it's clear in retrospect that execs could not wait to dump ABC's one male-skewing show, "Monday Night Football"), while challenges to the broadcast network arise from places filled with lean and hungry content creators craving access to all those under-served male consumers. Just as American TV is filled with actors from the UK and Australia, it could well be that Hollywood's TV (and movie) complex is replaced by creators from Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, eager to take a risk and make entertainment appealing to men as well as women. The technology exists, today, to provide that challenge.
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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Advertising's View of Husbands

Advertising today has a definite view of husbands. Witness the ad below for

Now, this ad might be a bit extreme, but it's illustrative of how Advertising (and the target market of women) view most husbands. As utterly replaceable. The woman even has a half-smile on her face as she searches for life insurance.

The woman is no more attractive than her husband. Compare the ad with this one:

"Jackpot." Increasingly, men are as objectified to women in advertising, as women are to men in pornography. This is not a healthy environment for formation of stable families, and evidence of consumerism as an approach to relationships, with short-term decision making on money and looks being marketed to women explicitly. [There is almost no marketing towards men, an astonishing factor given that say, Cook's Illustrated has gone from 17% male readership a decade ago to now, 50% male, or that it's common to see half the shoppers in the Supermarkets after work comprised of lone males. The idea that women alone make 80% of the purchasing decisions is as flawed as the assumption that there is a large and ever growing population of White youths.]

Note the only attribute for the Groom in the ad. Being hot.

These ads, in tandem, comprise more arrows pointing towards a profound, and probably irrevocable shift towards chaotic, short-term relationships instead of the nuclear family.
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Sandra Tsing Loh and The State of Marriage

In my previous post, How Many (White) Men Are Getting Married I noted that there was a definite trend for White Men, between ages 35-40, to be unmarried. Using the GSS Data, the increase was from 5% in 1972 to 25% in 2004. A marked increase. Recent, a couple of articles by married women have shed light on the state of marriage by people who are, in fact, married, and are the Yuppie, White upper income class of people.

The infamous, Sandra Tsing Loh article in the Atlantic, extolling the virtues of divorce and a new post-marriage order where,
...let them have some sort of French arrangement where they have two men, the postfeminist model dad building shelves, cooking bouillabaise, and ignoring them in the home, and the occasional fun-loving boyfriend the kids never see.

Tellingly, the article derides Dads who help around the house and kitchen as "kitchen bitches" and finds both un-manly and un-romantic. Another woman writes that her marriage is a prison and she needs to bust out, because her beta male husband is not exciting, though a good father and husband. Comments about Loh's article can be found both here and here. Ross Douhat in the New York Times makes some silly observations and stupid ones on the matter (that the Upper classes are in fact stable, and with few incidences of divorce, and that cross-class marriages should take place, respectively).

But what is the real picture of marriage today, in America, among Whites? Increasingly, it looks as if marriage was for Upper Class people only, and no longer something that characterizes lower and middle class Whites.

Sandra Tsing Loh's article is not new. Barbara Ehrenreich, of "Nickel and Dimed" wrote a December, 1999 Essay on the future of the family, sadly no longer online, in Time Magazine, in which she advocated a "fluid and ever-changing arrangement" for family care in which "the community" would care for children while women pursued passionate, intense, but short-lasting affairs. More recently, she's written here that:
Which brings us to the third big scenario. This is the diversity option, arising from the realization that the one-size-fits-all model of marriage may have been one of the biggest sources of tension between the sexes all along--based as it is on the wildly unrealistic expectation that a single spouse can meet one's needs for a lover, friend, co-parent, financial partner, reliably, 24-7. Instead there will be renewable marriages, which get re-evaluated every five to seven years, after which they can be revised, recelebrated or dissolved with no, or at least fewer, hard feelings. There will be unions between people who don't live together full-time but do want to share a home base. And of course there will always be plenty of people who live together but don't want to make a big deal out of it. Already, thanks to the gay-rights movement, more than 600 corporations and other employers offer domestic-partner benefits, a 60-fold increase since 1990.

Standard stuff from a feminist who thinks Muslim misogyny is based on fears of globalization.

Betty Friedan, who wrote of marriage as a prison, in "The Feminine Mystique" set the tone, years earlier of course. It is striking, however, that all of these women belong to a class. Fairly rich, ranging from mansions on the Hudson (Friedan never did housework, she had maids and servants) to various maids and nannies, but not rich enough to prevent divorce or longing for divorce.

The film The Nanny Diaries has a scene in which the prospective nanny, played by Scarlett Johansson, has lunch with her prospective employer (played by Laura Linney). There is an uncomfortable moment when an old friend of the Linney character stops by the table and laments her downward mobility after the divorce. Near the end of the film, the Linney character divorces her husband also, and loses the ability to live the high-life with mansions, summer homes at Martha's Vineyard, and other luxury amenities provided by her master of the universe, Wall Street titan husband. In reality of course, most married couples with that level of wealth try to stay together. The stakes, particularly for the children, are tremendous. There is a lot more ability to rise high on a net worth of $20 million, than there is with only perhaps $8 million an ex-spouse, after lawyer fees. Serious money creates serious behavior, though perhaps the super-rich divorce at the rate of those on the lower end of the financial spectrum.

It's striking that the women complaining about their sexless, "beta male" husbands (Loh, others) and the need to "re-invent" marriage as a formless, shapeless mess in which kids and husbands come last after a woman's need for passion and excitement, all come from a certain class. One able to afford nannies and maids and carpenters, making "kitchen bitches" superfluous, and speaking to the need to indulge "passion" while not at the level of wealth in which divorce means no more summering at the Hamptons in a private mansion. At least one of the women in Loh's article is described as making $120,000 a year, in addition to her husband's income (which should push their dual-incomes to around $200,000 or more a year). Given their social network, it's reasonable to assume the same for Loh and her husband (she an NPR commentator, and Atlantic writer, he a guitarist for Bette Midler) and the rest of her friends.

These women have enough money to hire their own nannies, their own carpenters, their own part-time cooks, and thus don't need or want their husbands helping around the house. It's not any accident that the women describe it as unmanly, as does the woman who describes her marriage as a prison. Their basic needs are met by their income, and they desire stimulation and excitement. [This is why, middle income women always support more immigration, legal or illegal. Because immigration increases the supply and lowers the cost of Rosa the Nanny and Manuel the carpenter, without facing competition as, say, a Concert Violinist or Environmental Lawyer, two of the occupations of Loh's friends.]

The women also have another beef with their husbands: they don't respect them because they earn as much or more than their husbands. This is a trend that has been developing for some time.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics website has a wealth of demographic data. Their 2007 report on Women's Earnings has a wealth of data. Among the highlights are:

  • The difference between women’s and men’s earnings was largest among those aged 55 to 64, with women earning about 73 percent as much as men in this age group. By
    comparison, women earned 87 percent as much as men among workers 25 to 34 years old, and 92 percent as much among 16- to 24-year-olds. (See table 1.)

  • Between 1979 and 2007, the earnings gap between women and men narrowed for most age groups. The women’s to men’s earnings ratio among 35- to 44-year-olds, for example, rose from 58 percent in 1979 to 77 percent in 2007, and the ratio for 45- to 54-year-olds increased from 57 percent to 75 percent. The earnings ratios for teenagers and for workers aged 65 and older fluctuated from 1979 to 2007, but their long-term trend has been essentially flat. (See table 12.)

From the report, we have the following graphs:

[Click Image to Enlarge]

Clearly we can see that women's earnings have been increasing. Correlation is not causation, but it is interesting that as women's earnings have increased both in absolute and relative to men's earnings, divorce and later marriage and single motherhood have all increased. Charles Murray believes that the single motherhood rate among White working and middle class women may be as high as 40% and 20% respectively.

[Click Image to Enlarge]

Again, correlation is not causation, but marriage seems strongest in those populations (Asian and White) that have the biggest earnings gap between men and women, and weakest in those populations (Black and Hispanics) that have the smallest gap.

[Click Image to Enlarge]

Men have done poorly in 1979 dollar amounts (and 1979 was a miserable year, economically) to 2007, in all educational areas except Bachelor's Degree and Higher. But even there, they are far out-stripped by women, and women have done better than men, with small but measurable increases for Associate's Degree and High School Grad, where in comparison men have losses, and substantial ones, from 1979 dollars. Even with less than High School diplomas, women posted smaller losses than men in 1979 dollar amounts, i.e. inflation adjusted.

[Click Image to Enlarge]

Finally, we can see that women outnumber men in most workplace areas, except things like mining, trucking, and the like. In Professional occupations, women outnumber men by 9.4%. This is the largest gap on the graph.

It's possible, that as women have closed the earnings gap with men, particularly among middle class, professional occupations (such as lawyers, doctors, the like), the ability of most men, who won't be very exciting even on a good day, to first attract a woman into marriage, and then keep her happy, is low. Given that women can as Loh recounts her friend "Ellen" can pursue lots of bad boys, why not replace "nice guy" husbands like Ron with maids and nannies, and keep the bad boys around? Increasingly, this seems to be the choice women are making.

The Wall Street Journal in the "Real Pregnancy Crisis" suggests that the real issue is non-College White, Latino, and Black women having children out of wedlock. The CDC reports that 40% of children were born illegitimately, compared to 11% in 1970. Fully 60% of these children were born to women in their twenties, only 23% to teens. The article decries the nonsense feminist academics praising this development, ala Loh, Ehrenreich, and Friedan before her.

ABC News notes that America is not alone. Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark post rates of 66%, 55%, 54%, and 46% respectively of illegitimacy. Nations known for rough gender parity in earnings, feminist politics, and lack of respect for their men. [One of Loh's friends notes in the Atlantic how "enlightened" Swedish women prefer dominant, aggressive Muslim men to their nice-guy Swedish men.] But then Sweden allows for gender-based abortion. Not the mark of a successful society, as China attests to. With 32 million more men than women under the age of twenty, gender imbalances due to sex-based abortions can be explosive. So too, lurching into illegitimacy as the social norm.

Thanks to reader Puma, for the link to Rutgers University study on the family.

[Click Image to Enlarge]

Over the last 40 years, marriage has declined radically, among women. While there are no class breakdowns, the largest slices of women are naturally going to be lower and middle class women, not upper class women.

We can see this decline in respect for marriage and husbands in the culture too. Nearly every ad, even those now featuring Black fathers, have doofus dads who are the butt of jokes.

Marriage, and the traditional nuclear family it seems, is something only for rich people. Yuppie women like Loh or Ehrenreich, can afford to replace husbands with exciting lovers and immigrant labor. For poorer women, out-of-wedlock children and rotating bad boys are the rule. Only where divorce means giving up real, serious money, in the millions of dollars, and giving up great luxury, do we see stable families and intact, nuclear family marriages. This great sea change, might incidentally explain the hatred of Sarah Palin, who famously married a blue collar guy of no great wealth, in her early twenties, and leveraged his support to run for office, first as Mayor of Wasilla, and then as Governor of Alaska.

After all, even the author of Moneyball, Michael Lewis, cannot get his wife's respect of that of other women. Lewis, a best-selling author not once but twice, with "Liar's Poker" is treated like a doofus.

In "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," it was eerie how the literally empowered women treated men. Written by avowed feminist Joss Whedon, Buffy and her super-powered female friends pursued, non-stop, dangerous bad boys with superpowers, who were their superiors. Character, morality, and duty meant nothing, only the thrill of violent, dangerous, super-powered men. Perhaps the most illustrative moment came when Buffy's second vampire boyfriend, "Spike" raped her, and she fell in love with him and (implied off-screen sex) with him again. [Star Sarah Michelle Gellar hated that particular storyline and feuded with series creator and show-runner Whedon over it.]

Now, women don't have superpowers. But the better earnings, status, social conditions, and opportunities afforded women have not come without a cost, all across the West. If women are hard-wired to be hypergamous, i.e. desire men of greater power and status than themselves, this would make "kitchen bitches" irrelevant and explain our brave new world of single mothers, rotating bad boys, and disdain, shown over and over again, for fatherhood and men who embrace it. It would also explain the success of the institution of marriage in the only class that still sustains it: high powered men making millions every year and women who work only part-time in jobs that pay little but give prestige, i.e. the Non Governmental Organizations, the NGOs, like Greenpeace or Amnesty International or Heal the Bay.

The very rich men, those of the Upper Class have superpowers. They have more power and status than their wives.
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