Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Show Me The Money!

I can't help but chuckle about the recent ballyhoo over NBC's decision to time-delay broadcasting major Olympic events. Yes, the Peacock is guilty of a few missteps, such as spoiling the gymnastic competition in its "Today" promos, editing out a tribute portion of the Opening Ceremonies to instead show an interview between Ryan Seacrest and Michael Phelps and last but not least, inviting Ryan Seacrest to the party in the first place. But does the network's decision to delay high-profile contests until primetime in the U.S. warrant a public outcry and the perpetual online screams of #NBCFail?

I don't know, that's an individual decision. As is watching the Olympics on NBC.

Despite a very loud segment of the population decrying the practice, The Peacock is still setting record viewership ratings for the Olympics telecast. Sure, they have a monopoly on coverage in the U.S., but if people were really so upset about it they could, after all, stop watching. Because what, after all, would send a better message to the programming gods at NBC? A few angry tweets and rants in the blogosphere, or a plummeting viewership?

The latter.

The fact that the ratings just seem to go up, and up, and up illustrates a simple principal that most Americans have trouble grasping. In a capitalist society such as ours, money talks and we vote with our dollars.

Americans are terrible at this. In fact, we often cast our votes for the very things we (claim) to despise. We all moan about how mad we are at NBC, but then we tune in in record numbers.
We are a society that insists on having our cake and eating it too, which is great for people that sell cake.

Take 3D movies for example. I have followed the near-unanimous distaste for the "hip new medium" ever since it first starting trickling through with B-movie trash like Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D or My Bloody Valentine in 3D. Then Avatar made a billion dollars (not an exaggeration) and suddenly studio execs saw blue and red dollars signs popping out of the screen in front of their eyes.
At first it drew curiosity, but in time the incessant barrage of "IN 3D!" at the end of trailers began to draw audible moans from cinema audiences.

It's been decided, no one likes 3D. But with every major release anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of an opening weekend's grosses come from 3D screenings. That is, in essence, free money in the bank for studios given the pocket change it costs to go 3D. We all complain about the surcharges and blurry heacache-producing images of 3-D movies, and yet 3-D screenings rake in tens of millions of additional dollars, effortlessly, for major releases.

Why? Mostly because we're too lazy to find a 2D screening and partly because we're all Justin Bieber fans -- we'll buy whatever is sold to us.

What message does this send? Each and every person who watches the Olympics or puts on a pair of 3-D glasses is sending an open letter to the decision makers that says "All is well, stay the course," which is fine, unless you're the one complaining.

Which brings me to Chick-Fil-A. I won't rehash what prompted the food-chain's controversy except to say that much of the ensuing discussion has focused on the constitutionally questionable threats that some U.S. city officials have made against the chain. Frankly, I don't care about that.

What is interesting to me is the simultaneous response from patrons who either agree or disagree with Dan Cathy's wildly-ill-advised comments. In the last week we've seen everyone from regular folk to pundits, organizations to politicians either vowing to never again partake of the original chicken sandwich, or holding up their red-and-white bags for photo ops with a sense of pride that says "Down with gays! Up with Chicken!"

I would imagine that depending on a particular location, sales have either doubled or been cut in half, or perhaps have stayed exactly the same balanced out by competing reactions. Lunch has now become politicized to the point where you can't even drive through without intimating a position on the gay marriage debate (which as you will recall from previous posts, I struggle to even call a "debate").

Sure, it's too bad that the president of Chick-Fil-A had to draw a line in the sand. It's also terrible that prejudice and inequality continue to run rampant in our country. But regardless of which side of the "debate" you land on, I find it somewhat inspiring to see that for once, Americans are (and pardon the pun) putting their money where their mouths are.

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