Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Careers That Aren't: TNA, And Another Youth Dream, Goes Boots Up

Lots Of That Going Around
So on the other spots of Blogfrica that I monitor, this news: the second-biggest pro wrestling / sports entertainment program (TNA on Spike, as if you or I know anything about it) is being canceled by its channel.

I don't want to get into the guts of why this happened, because I honestly don't know or much care. I didn't watch the show, and while I'm sure that they could have done things better to change that, that's true of everyone, really.

But what I do find kind of fascinating about all of this is the numbers. TNA drew over a million people a week to watch its show, and that's really not a small feat in today's wildly splintered media market. To put it into perspective, for a good chunk of its run, "Breaking Bad" on AMC only had a couple of million viewers, before it became a cultural phenomenon, eventually driving 10 million for the series finale. If the WNBA or Arena Football got a million people watching, you'd hear about it from the rooftops of how the minor league is on the rise after so many years on the periphery. The WWE has the biggest audiences on cable on Monday and Friday nights for its shows, and people watch this stuff all over the world, with rich histories in Japan and England, and tours all over Europe and elsewhere.

So why is the industry so sick and sad right now, and why is TNA cancelling a show that has to be among the biggest drivers of eyeballs on its network?

Well, the reasons are myriad. Big numbers aren't meaningful when you can't tell a good demographic story to advertisers, and no one has ever been able to make the case that the people who watch this stuff have buying power beyond junk food or youth toys. Since the industry is frequently trading in on train wreck moments and spectacle, you also need to have a strong stomach for possible PR nightmares; even though things are better than they used to be with fewer guys dying and/or getting arrested. The WWE in particular has been on a roller coaster, with the stock spiking and crashing, and the personnel getting crunched accordingly. And this isn't a cheap thing to staff or film. You need a couple of dozen performers, you have to fill an arena, pay the techs and the camera people and the writers, and so on, and so on.

But more than anything, what seems to be happening to me is that a pursuit that used to be easily attached to the strong creation of commerce -- which is to say, individual contracted performers, learning their craft at the local level, developing a fan base before they went national, and being able to drive pay per view purchasing decisions -- isn't happening any more. And that, to me, is the fascinating thing, because we've seen it before.

Twenty odd years ago, I was a singer in a rock and roll band. And so, seemingly, was everyone else. A friend started a music industry trade show, and asked me for help in doing the marketing and PR for the event... and we got something like 5,000 entries for a couple of hundred showcase slots. Despite an entry fee. It was a nice little business, really -- not the making of music, but the selling of opportunity to the people who made the music.

It was the dream we all dreamed of, and try as I might, there wasn't very much that I could do to separate my outfit from others. If you had a hit single, that was one thing, but having one of those was all kinds of magic, and building your own base of tens of thousands of fans without radio or label support was the point of entry that, well, no one could overcome.

And then the world changed, and making money from CD sales gradually became something that very few people did, and even the meager economics of being a starving musician got to the point where starving wasn't possible. There was, simply, not enough people willing to mark out for bands that were new, and all of those folks had to find other ways to make a living. The world didn't need 5,000 original bands, and never did... and even the couple of dozen of "star" acts, not so much as to leave your house and go to a store or venue and pay for it.

That's where people who want to be wrestlers are at now. There's one organization of note, run by one family of at best quirky people, and if you aren't what they are looking for, you aren't going to be in that business. And that organization, due to its history and PR issues and marketing challenges, and a fan base that ages out constantly and/or wants indie cred to show up to local shows or find foreign matches on YouTube, isn't going to increase their spend or time with the lead organization.

So, just like rock stars or porn stars or photographers or travel agents, technology is the enemy of employment, and a lottery-chance employment option for social mobility is being choked off. You don't have to like wrestling to not like that, but I'm not sure there's anything to be done about it.

Such is the way of the world, and man alive... isn't there anything we, as a nation and people, can do to increase the number of jobs that pay decent coin? Or even just to give some kid a dream?

No comments:

Ads In This Size Rule