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Trend: Steeper Decline in TV, Hollywood — and Comic Books

It’s as if the public has simply lost the sense that the media represent the average watcher or reader — and that’s probably true in many cases

We’ve already noted the significant decline in circulation and collapse of trust in major newspapers (online or in print). But 2022 reported steep declines in other media as well.

From the entertainment industry’s Variety mag, we learn that while there were some winners in TV — ESPN, crime shows, and digi-nets — most TV of all types continued to see losses, many of them double-digit losses. As commentator Don Surber noted, “The drop in viewers came despite an Olympics, a popular war and a federal election.”

The drop in viewers is reflected in an overall drop in revenue, projected to continue. A highlight from Samba TV’s State of Viewership report:

Gen Z and millennials are driving the shift away from linear TV. Millennials under age 35 watched nearly 25% less linear TV per week than households over age 35. Some decline in linear viewership can be attributed to different habits among age groups, with older generations remaining tied to linear and younger viewers switching to OTT services.

George Winslow, “Linear TV Viewing Declines in Q2 2022” at TV Tech (August 18, 2022)

Here’s the decline in five charts. Streaming is overtaking cable, of course, but even streaming does not appear to be The Answer, financially.

Here’s a thought: So much news and entertainment out there is simply free for the price of an internet connection. A viewer must want to view a particular item to consider paying for it.

TV will probably lose cultural influence, relative to past decades. For example, CNN lost 33% of its viewers despite 2022 being an election year. The viewers may not have changed political preferences so much as they were just more eclectic in where they found news.

In a similar shift, in 2022, Hollywood lost $500 billion in value, according to the Financial Times. Hollywood Reporter offers:

Across every major studio, economic emergency brakes have been pulled, with hiring freezes, enhanced scrutiny on travel and entertainment expenses, and, yes, layoffs. In the legacy media world, where studios have been betting on streaming to make up for declining cable revenues, it also has provided a gut check. Profits are still years off for many, and the economic headwinds are accelerating cost-cutting measures that may have already been in motion as executives, and Wall Street, get more pragmatic about streaming.

Caitlin Huston, Alex Weprin, “When the Numbers Don’t Add Up: Recession Fears Dent Hollywood’s Streaming Ambitions” at Hollywood Reporter (December 7, 2022)

Again, if this trend persists, it will surely be reflected in Hollywood’s loss of influence. Poverty is not glamorous. Glamor is expensive.

Some ask whether new Woke politics and themes in entertainment are driving the decline. It’s a complex question. Wokeness probably is driving a decline in comic book sales (though such facts are rarely admitted). For example, suddenly morphing an iconic type of character into an unfamiliar identity is like replacing the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie with goat’s milk yogurt. Whatever diners might otherwise think of the yogurt, they were looking forward to their traditional pumpkin pie…

And in the case of comic books, some say there has even been pressure on shop owners from publishers to accept Woke ware, even though the shop owners knew that the fans were not interested:

If a comic book store does not order enough comics of a certain comic book that is more diverse or has LGBTQ characters, then then the owner is called names and gets insults. However, despite of the fact that an LGBTQ comic book does not sell much the store owner is still pressure into buying those.

The comic stores are the ones that suffer because of the politics. You have feminist comic books that don’t sell even 10,000 copies but the store owner is pressure into ordering those.

Andy Matrix, “Has The Comic Book Industry Collapse? Here Is The Proof” at Andy Art TV (May 12, 2021)

Hardly a winning formula.

On the other hand, the adoption of Woke politics and themes may be as much an effect as a cause. Organizations that are already losing capital and influence may experiment with risky themes rather than simply manage a decline. We can say for sure that, even if Wokeness did not cause the decline, it certainly hasn’t stemmed it.

Will news and entertainment media back away from Woke themes as a result? It depends on what the media thought leaders want. If they can survive on niche Woke markets, buoyed by government arts bailouts, they may survive. To go back to serving a broader mainstream public, they would need to start by finding that public again. Which won’t be easy in these times.

You may also wish to read: In Big Tech World: the journalist as censor, hit man, and snitch. Glenn Greenwald looks at a disturbing trend in media toward misrepresentation as well as censorship.

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Trend: Steeper Decline in TV, Hollywood — and Comic Books