Archives for television



What’s At Stake in the Aereo Case? Maybe the Future of the Cloud

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a major technology case, ABC v. Aereo. The case attracted a huge amount of attention – “Aereo” was the #1 Google search on Tuesday. And that isn’t really surprising. What the Court decides in Aereo could have profound effects on the future not only of television, but of the Internet as well.

Aereo’s business model is clever and, potentially, very disruptive. As they have done since the dawn of television, the major networks – ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX – broadcast their signals over the air. You can receive these signals with a digital antenna – the modern equivalent of rabbit ears – and millions of Americans who don’t subscribe to cable or satellite still do.

Aereo is nominally in the antenna business. Aereo owns thousands of tiny digital antennas – each about the size of a dime – on the roof of a building in Brooklyn. In exchange for a monthly fee that ranges from $8-$12, an Aereo subscriber can dial into one of these antennas to watch whatever she wants. Read More »



More Channels, More Specialization

There’s a story in the July 3 edition of The Australian about the Fox Footy (Australian Rules Football) Channel. That the channel exists illustrates how changing technology increases well-being.  With the plummeting cost of TV production and transmission has come a great growth in the number of specialized channels.  When I was a kid, the U.S. had three networks and a few independent channels in big cities. Today, things like the Fox Footy Channel have increased the ability of the medium to cater to specialized tastes. 

Since I’m not the only American who likes Australian football, or footy, I expect to see the channel on U.S. TVs soon — thus increasing variety, increasing my total utility.  Any thoughts on likely future channels that will cater to even more specific tastes?



Marlo’s Monopoly

We are belatedly watching The Wire, nearing the end of Season V. [N.B.: see Sudhir Venkatesh's series of blog posts called "What Do Real Thugs Think of The Wire?"] By Episode 6, Marlo Stanfield has killed off the competing retail drug lords and also the chief wholesaler, Proposition Joe.  At the next meeting of Baltimore drug lords, Marlo allocates territories among his subordinates and announces to everyone a large rise in the wholesale price of drugs.  Not surprising—he has turned an oligopoly into a monopoly, with him as the monopolist. 

Marlo doesn’t realize it yet, but his monopoly status gives others a bigger incentive to attack him.  Don’t spoil the suspense for me, but I wouldn’t be surprised, although I would be pleased, if Marlo is bumped off by his own subordinates—it’s hard to maintain monopoly power.



How Money Is March Madness? A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “How Money Is March Madness?”  (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)

The gist: the annual NCAA basketball tournament grabs a lot of eyeballs, but turning them into dollars hasn’t always been easy — even when the “talent” is playing for free.

Last year, March Madness reportedly earned its highest TV ratings in 18 years. This year’s Super Bowl, meanwhile, was the third most-watched broadcast in TV history (behind two earlier Super Bowls), despite (or because of?) an electrical blackout. Interestingly — to me, at least — these two premier TV sporting events are sold very differently: the Super Bowl rotates annually among one of three networks while the NCAA is in the midst of a 14-year contract with CBS and Turner Sports. How does that difference affect ad revenue? Read More »



Weird But True: Freakonomics-Flavored Cop Show Bought by NBC

A few months back, Levitt and I were asked help put together a TV cop show based on the concepts of Freakonomics. The gist: a big-city police force, in crisis, hires a rogue academic (sound familiar?) to help get crime under control.

It struck us as a totally crazy but also strangely appealing idea. The concept had been hatched by Brian Taylor, a  young exec at Kelsey Grammer‘s production company, Grammnet, which then partnered with Lionsgate; and the acclaimed writer Kevin Fox was brought on board. The show would be called Pariah.

A couple weeks ago, Levitt and I went to Los Angeles to help pitch the show to the TV networks. Since we know nothing about TV, we tried to not talk too much and let Kevin, Brian, and Kelsey do their thing. And they did! Here’s the news, from Deadline.com: Read More »



Religion, Crime, and Television

A new survey study by Amir Hetsroni (who has also studied the difference between real doctors and TV doctors) and Hila Levenstein looks at the relationship between TV viewing and crime perception. The study, to be published next year in Psychological Reports, found a difference between religious and non-religious participants. From Ynetnews:

Yet the data collected from the 778 residents of northern Israel who watched channels 2 and 10 during prime time viewing hours in 2009 revealed some unexpected information. 

It soon became clear that among secular viewers there was a certain connection between television viewing and fear of falling victim to a crime. Whereas a situation called Counter-Cultivation was diagnosed among religious viewers. This means that the more they watched television, the less they feared becoming a victim of a crime.

Read More »



TV’s Relationship to Mental Retardation and Autism

TV is bad for children.  Wait, no it’s not.  Yes, it is!   And it’s really bad for their hearts!

Here’s the latest paper on the topic, from Michael Waldman, Sean Nicholson, and Nodir Adilov.  Using a natural experiment to rule out the possibility of reverse causation, the authors find “a strong negative correlation between average county-level cable subscription rates when a birth cohort is below three and subsequent mental retardation diagnosis rates, but a strong positive correlation between the same cable subscription rates and subsequent autism diagnosis rates.”   Read More »



Less Work Time = More TV, Grooming Time

What would we do with our time if we suddenly didn’t have to work as much but were just as healthy and had the same income? This question is ages-old, was posed by Keynes in 1930, but is very hard to answer: sudden, permanent drops in work time that change nothing else are very rare. They did occur in Japan in the 1990s and Korea in the 2000s, when their governments induced employers to cut work hours. In a recent paper Jungmin Lee, Daiji Kawaguchi and I use time diaries from before and after the changes to see what happened. In Japan, almost half the free time was devoted to additional TV-watching, while in Korea, much was devoted to increased personal care, particularly grooming. But in neither was there any increase in home production — child care, cooking, gardening, etc. I like to think the same would occur in the U.S. — that we would use permanent cuts in work time to enjoy ourselves and take more care of ourselves. Regrettably in the workaholism champion of the Western world, these cuts don’t seem likely any time soon.