June 2, 2016
Confession: I am a soccer fan — a diehard one — and this summer is an incredible time to be a one. I traditionally root for Arsenal, a London-based team in the British Premier League (and, FYI, the greatest team in the world). However, every season there are 50-plus club games for every soccer team in all the big European leagues, as well as MLS domestically, playing their standard seasonal schedules.
So the rarer occasion is a glut of international soccer, or the national teams of each country facing off. While there are friendly games year-round, the World Cup only comes around once every four years. Outside of that, it’s rare to have big tournaments lined up. This summer, though, the Copa America Centenario and the Euros, which are the premier international tournaments of all the nations of the Americas and Europe, respectively, line up over a few weeks, as do the Olympic Games. The Euros, like the Olympics, happen every four years, and the Copa America only happens every two to three years. But, praise be, they’ve all fallen during the same eight weeks this summer.
What does this mean? For two months, this summer turns into soccer Valhalla. There are more than 110 international matches in eight weeks. On certain days, I can watch soccer for 10 straight hours. I repeat. 10. Straight. Hours. This doesn’t include MLS matches or club friendlies/warm-ups leading up to the start of regular season competition. So a) I won’t be very productive this summer and b) I will be very happy.
By any measure, though, this is “a lot of soccer.” In fact, some may say “too much soccer.” As a fan, it just feels like a gift from the sports gods. I’m not going to watch every single second of every single match, but I’m sure as hell going to catch as much of it as I can. And I’ll definitely be glued to the screen for the clashes of the best players/teams in the world, like Monday’s epic Argentina v. Chile match, that saw the No. 1 team in the world (Argentina) defeat the No. 5 team (Chile) 2-1. As far as I’m concerned, there could be another 100 matches this summer and it wouldn’t feel like “too much.”
This is how I’ve been thinking of the “we’re drowning in a sea of content” debate that keeps springing up. I read a fascinating article on “The Business of Too Much TV” in Vulture that talks about the exponential rise in primetime scripted TV shows and their effect not just on viewing habits but business models as well. This comes on the heels of FX’s CEO John Landgraf famously declaring there is “too much content” for the past year and saying that monopolies like Netflix are “terrible for creatives.” Not to mention the announcement that the world’s worst-named company, tronc (formerly known as the Tribune Publishing Company), wants to explore using AI to create more than “2,000 videos a day”. If we were on a slow slide to a maximum capacity of content, we’re about to fall off a very steep cliff.
The amount of content will only continue to increase. But the more nuanced debate is whether this is a good or a bad thing. Whether, as Landgraf postulates, the volume of content necessarily means a devaluing of the quality of content, and the creatives that create it, on a whole. A race to the volumetric bottom, so to speak. Or whether the tidal wave of content will also bring with it more and more things that people actually want to watch. That, maybe, it will force creators, financiers, distributors, and creatives to create better and better content to cut through the clutter.
I tend to be in the latter camp. I think that the thing that the Landgrafs of the world miss when they bemoan having over 1,400 primetime shows on network TV is that no one cares about most of those shows because no one’s taste is all-encompassing. If you look at the sheer volume of content on TV, for instance, yes there’s a lot. But how much do you care about? I, personally, don’t watch reality TV (outside of cooking shows and “The Bachelor” #NotSorry) and I’m not big on half-hour comedies. That literally means that 70 percent of those shows I’ll never care about anyway. If I just focus on the things in which I’m interested, there is still a lot of content, but also more dark, interesting, and really damn good one-hour character dramas on TV than ever before.
So, to me, it’s just like soccer this summer. There is so much soccer on, but my sheer love for the sport means that it doesn’t feel like too much. Similarly, what differentiates the sentiment of “too much content” from “an embarrassment of riches” is the focus on what people love or are interested in. If I am a fan of cooking shows, between “Chef’s Table,” “Mind of a Chef,” “Masterchef,” “Top Chef,” “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” “The Great British Bakeoff,” and so many others, there’s never been a better time to be alive. Not every show is going to be Chile v. Argentina blockbuster either. There will be a lot of bad content, just like there are going to be bad matches. But you also never know when a Ecuador v. Haiti or an Austria v. Hungary match will turn into an absolute barn-burner. But I do know, that because there is so much new content being created, and creators generally know they need to be good to cut through the clutter, there’s also so much content to love.
Now clearly there’s a downside to this all. tronc’s plan to have AI automate the creation of 2,000 videos a day is a cynical land grab that by its very nature decouples content from the creative process that connects it to humanity. There might be room in this world for soulless, pragmatic content like this, but these economic-based experiments will probably end up going the way of the content farm. People always end up rejecting things that are bad. The flip side of that coin, though, is they tend to reward content that they love. And if one thing is for sure, in this era of “too much content,” there always has never in history been more amazing content, for whatever you happen to be into, and never been so much to fall head over heels in love with.