CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — We all mourned the loss of Jon Stewart on The Daily Show in 2015. Along with keeping us entertained and informed, he was the cat that kept the mice at bay, captured so well in the above political cartoon from that year. FOX News eventually imploded on itself, but many think it would have happened sooner if Jon Stewart had remained on the airwaves.
With the release of the expose on the cable TV industry by well-known fiction author Steven Baird (a bestselling author on Amazon for the past 10 years, at ordinaryhandsome.com), we are now able to look back and see what started the collapse of this huge and powerful industry. While Mr. Baird attributes the industry’s destruction on a confluence of factors, the tech-heads over at MIT — always looking to prove that Big Data is our savior — have provided additional analysis with the recent publication of a media research project on television.
In 2015, AT&T U-verse was listed as the best cable provider, with Comcast Xfinity as number two and Verizon Fios as number three. The number one channel was ESPN, because football. The Walking Dead series was popular, along with The Big Bang Theory, but the most watched channel besides ESPN was FOX News. Remember Bill O’Reilly?
It was when Bernie Sanders was elected in 2016 that the tables really turned for cable TV. But the MIT data analysis points to a more specific incident which began the industry’s downfall: when Jon Stewart left The Daily Show. The data show a significant decrease in viewership after Stewart left, and as more and more Americans cut the cord. Now we have trouble remembering TV as anything more than football and infomercials.
There was also a significant drop in cable TV viewership when ESPN, in an attempt to keep up with the popularity of fantasy football on the internet, began broadcasting football games for free. It turns out that football fans would rather see avatars get concussions than real players, so this strategy by ESPN didn’t pan out. But it was Jon Stewart’s departure that started the giant boulder rolling at the industry.
Video screens are ubiquitous now — from the one outside for a billboard selling the next best thing, to the one inside The Gap taking our measurements and helping us pick out jeans. The internet killed TV, just like it destroyed privacy. Americans have decided we can do without cable TV. Unfortunately, we have also decided that privacy is an outdated concept.
We don’t miss FOX News or cable TV. But Jon Stewart on The Daily Show was one of a kind.