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The Long Winter & The Streaming Wars

The Long Winter

Before the Tokyo Olympics, people knew that the 2020 Games would provide unique mental challenges for athletes. As a whole, the Games were less joyful than usual, so they did not feel like the usual culmination of a lifetime of preparation. Things were decidedly subdued. Leading up to the Games, many questioned whether they should be happening at all, and there were genuine, well-founded fears that the entire event would be cancelled. Depending on an athlete’s country of origin and their relevant restrictions, many athletes did not have the support and freedom necessary to prepare adequately. Because of these issues, some people feel that medals from the Tokyo Games – the “pandemic Olympics” – somehow did not mean as much, that there was an asterisk next to every result. Others felt the exact opposite, that they meant more because these athletes showed an extra level of resilience.

Now that the Winter Olympics in Beijing have begun, the same conversations have been rekindled. After Tokyo, people had hoped that the Beijing Games might be a blast to the past in a good way, meaning a more “normal” Olympic experience, but because of China’s “Zero COVID” policy, the Winter Games have made athletes feel like they have gone back in time, specifically to mid-2020 during the most severe periods of international lockdowns. As the Financial Times reports, German officials have been “working with Chinese and IOC officials to get three athletes in isolation facilities cleaner rooms, training equipment and regular delivery of food and PCR tests”. Russian biathlon competitor Valeria Vasnetsova even posted complaints to Instagram complaining about having to eat the same food for five days, consisting of “plain pasta, an orange sauce, meat, and potatoes, with no greens”. The conditions in her room have led to her feeling worse, “My stomach hurts, I’m very pale and I have huge black circles around my eyes”, Vasnetsova said. “I want all this to end. I cry every day. I’m very tired.” Overall, the lack of fans means that many athletes are travelling and competing without their families and loved ones, meaning that they are competing for the first times in their lives without their usual support systems.

Being an elite athlete means being able to perform no matter the circumstances. Soccer players are still expected to score goals even if the field is soaked by torrential rain. NFL players routinely play in sub-zero temperatures and during heavy snow, even when they cannot feel the ball in their hands. People can accept mother nature’s wrath, but it is much harder to mentally accept man-made obstacles. As Tokyo showed us, mental resilience has become more important than ever for athletes. Two years in, Beijing is bringing new kinds of obstacles to overcome, and as we will see in the coming days, athletes will show us new levels of resilience.

Will the streaming wars end in a Pyrrhic victory?

The term “Pyrrhic victory” originates from Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose victory against the Romans in the Battle of Asculum depleted his forces. Even though his forces had won the battles, they had lost so many men in the process that their campaign against the Romans was doomed. As Apple, Disney, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and a host of other companies battle for subscribers, and spend more and more money to create content in the process, experts are starting to wonder whether it is all worth it. Every year, these big players are spending more and promising to spend even bigger sums in upcoming years. For example, in 2019, Disney planned to spend 2 billion USD on content in 2024; that number has since been revised to be more than 9 billion USD. As The Economist points out, “a realisation is setting in that old media companies are pivoting from a highly profitable cable-TV business to a distinctly less rewarding alternative”. Despite increases in expenditures, the subscribers just aren’t coming. “Netflix, the leading streamer, forecast that in the first quarter of 2022 it would add just 2.5 million new members. That would be the weakest first quarter since 2010, when most Netflix subscribers still got DVDs by mail. Its share price fell by more than a quarter on the news… With some exceptions, growth has slowed across the industry”.

The streaming ceiling seems to be lower than people thought, and that makes sense. As people have pointed out since streaming companies rose to prominence, they are fundamentally designed as unbundled cable television services. As more streaming companies rose to prominence, consumers had to pay each company for their services. Thus, if a person is paying 10 to 20 USD per service per month, it quickly adds up to the cost of their old cable bill, which averages about 100 USD per month in the US. What was billed as an alternative to cable seems to have just become cable, just with extra steps. Thus, most people are very quick to cancel services. The prediction is that these streaming companies, these warring factions, will eventually have to join forces to survive. Even though profit margins for streaming are lower than for cable TV, the writing is on the wall: streaming is here to stay because consumers are still ditching cable in favour of streaming. We do not know who will win the wars, but the only thing that everybody agrees on is that they will come at a great cost, and there is no guarantee that the spoils will be that impressive in the end.