Eliza Levinson recaps the week in streaming.
Another week! Can you even? I, personally, cannot. This week, a teen tried to sell a “puffy Dorito” online for $20,000; Jeff Bezos rode a giant penis into outer space for 11 minutes and then landed on Earth wearing a cowboy hat before thanking his underpaid employees for helping him get there; and a photo from Cannes of Timothée Chalamet, Wes Anderson, Tilda Swinton, and Bill Murray promoting their new film, The French Dispatch, has been making the rounds on social media, because everyone in the picture is pulling looks and, according to Slate, “we seek connection.” (True!)
This week, I bit the bullet and watched the new Gossip Girl, which was bananas. I was living for the alt hotties (Evan Mock!) and the Fabulous outfits, but any time one of the teens on the show mentioned (with wide eyes) their commitment to social justice, it felt so cringey, hollow, and horrible that I did have the strong sense that an angel somewhere had lost its wings (Sad!). I then finally started watching Bridgerton, which — like Gossip Girl — has an anonymous, presumably female gossip columnist who Runs This Town and everyone in This Town is rich, horny, and messy. The biggest and most notable difference is the quality of acting, which is truly abysmal on the new (and the old!) GG.
The Long Road To The Olympics: Everything You Need To Know
This week will see the long-awaited kickoff of the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed from their planned date last summer. The preceding months leading up to the Olympics have seen an avalanche of COVID-19 infections in participating athletes, the unnecessary and excessive suspension of America’s fastest female runner, and immense criticism of event planners for hosting the games at all as coronavirus cases surge in Japan, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency.
As a broad overview, the Olympics will kick off on Friday, July 23 at 8pm (Japan time), and will continue until Sunday, August 8. In total, there will be 339 events and 33 different sports. The Paralympics will take place from August 24 to September 5, including 22 sports and 539 events. Several new sports are going to be included at this year’s event, including skateboarding (hot), surfing, and karate.
The Sha’Carri Richardson Controversy: Racism and the Olympics
In late June, sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson made headlines in her knockout performance at US Olympics Trials, winning the 100 meter race “as expected.” In her race, Richardson “pointed at the clock for the last 20 meters or so to highlight her blazing 10.64-second clocking.”
Ten days later, Richardson was suspended for a month by the United States Anti-Doping Agency after testing positive for marijuana. Because of the positive drug test result, Richardson’s performance at the US Trials was “erased,” jeopardizing her chances to make the US Olympics team, which would be announced in a week’s time. When the team was announced, it was revealed that officials for the team had decided not to select Richardson for the US Olympics team, excluding her from participation in this year’s Olympics.
This bodes poorly for the US Olympics women’s sprinting team, as Richardson’s consistently strong performances –– including one in April, where she “ran the sixth-fastest time ever” — made her a “favorite” to take home first place in this summer’s Olympics.
Critics were vocally outraged about the decision, with many noting that marijuana is, for many, not a “performance enhancing” drug — not to mention that it is also legal in an increasing number of US states. “There are not a large number of rigorous studies of marijuana as a performance enhancer,” writes Victor Mather for the New York Times, “but there is evidence that it can help some athletes relax and focus. On the other hand,” he crucially points out, “it can negatively affect hand-eye coordination, concentration and endurance.”
Many have gone on to point out that the Olympics seem to have a significant “race problem,” such as a decision from “the aquatic sports governing body bann[ing] the use of a swim cap designed to accommodate natural Black hair.”
Sha’Carri Richardson’s suspension is not the only Black athlete facing unduly strict rules and penalties: after groundbreaking gymnast Simone Biles made history by successfully pulling off a Yurchenko double pike, judges awarded her a score of just 6.6, “close to what Biles’s other vaults have received.” Biles herself was frustrated at the scoring, which analysts think was done to discourage other gymnasts from attempting the dangerous move. If Biles brings the Yurchenko double pike to the Olympics, muses Kurt Streeter for the New York Times, it’s possible she’ll be scored with the same punitive indifference.
Similarly, Streeter points out, Black athletes including Naomi Osaka and Gwen Berry have been penalized in the press and by the Olympics Committee, supporting an idea that “the olympics rely on, but don’t support, Black Girl Magic.”
Critics In Japan Fear Olympics Will Be Super-Spreader Event
One such critic is Japan’s Emperor Naruhito, who is expressly “forbidden by Japan’s postwar constitution from making public statements on contentious issues.” Still, a member of his Imperial Household Agency told the press that he is concerned the Olympics will be a super-spreader event, exacerbated by the country’s slow vaccine rollout. As of July 5, “only 12.65% of Japan’s population has been fully vaccinated against Covid,” and government officials anticipate making the jabs accessible to the general public in October or November.
According to The Guardian, these are concerns many Japanese citizens share, with one poll showing that “86% of people in Japan are worried about the risk of a rebound in Covid cases if the Olympics go ahead this summer.” In fact, “most Japanese people” reportedly support the decision to cancel or postpone the games entirely, based on recent polling. Many of the most prominent companies in Japan are ditching the Olympics Opening Ceremony out of fear of retribution from the public, given the event’s unpopularity locally. Tennis superstar Serena Williams has also gone on the record to say she will not attend this year’s Olympic games, citing travel restrictions and her 3-year-old daughter as part of it, but cryptically adding: “There’s a lot of reasons that I made my Olympic decision. I don’t feel like going into them today. Maybe another day. Sorry.”
In response to these concerns, this year’s event, with crackdowns on spectatorship and the possibility of an eerily empty Opening Ceremony, “shapes up to be a No-Fun Olympics,” in Stephan Wade’s words — though, as Zaheena Rasheed reports for Al Jazeera, the extensive COVID-19 safety measures described by event officials “are neither adequate nor properly enforced.”
Still, officials in Japan are loosely trying to minimize the risk for Olympics viewers, as they simultaneously work to encourage viewers to stay home and avoid drinking alcohol while also opening up Olympics viewing venues to 50% capacity, so long as crowds stay under 10,000. International spectators are not allowed, while no fans will be allowed to watch any Olympics events held in Tokyo.
The state of COVID-19 infections in Japan has also prompted the government to “pull the Olympic torch relay off capital streets, allowing it to run only on remote islands off the Tokyo coast,” as described by the Associated Press for ESPN. This will not affect the annual Olympics Opening Ceremony — typically the peak night of Olympics viewership –– which traditionally highlights the culture of the host country. This year, the theme of the Opening Ceremony is “United by Emotion.”
More than 11,000 people from around the world will be flying in to stay at the athlete’s village during the games, and on July 18 — inevitably — two soccer players and a video analyst who were already staying in the Olympic village tested positive for COVID-19. “Since July 1,” reports Claudia Koerner for Buzzfeed, “55 people associated with the games have tested positive.”
Money, Money, Money
Why go forward with the Olympics at all? Well, for one thing, writes Zaheena Rasheed, the IOC could lose as much as $3 billion if the event is wholly cancelled. Plus, this year’s event is shaping up to have a massive viewership: the late June Olympics Trials in the US pulled in a high of 5.49 million watching on a single Sunday night. In mid-June, NBCUniversal’s CEO, Jeff Shell, said at a Credit Suisse conference that this year could be “the most profitable Olympics in NBC’s history” (as paraphrased by Helen Coster for Reuters).
In fact, despite the reluctance from local companies in Japan, this year’s Olympics has spent more money on ads than any other Olympics preceding it, with more than $1.25 billion invested in commercials during the 7,000-hour event.
It is notable, too, that the Olympics have only ever been previously cancelled before because of the outbreak of World Wars in 1916, 1940, and 1944. According to Hanako Montgomery for Vice, “the Tokyo Olympics is the first one during peacetime to have been postponed.”
YouTube TV Adds New Features In Preparation
In preparation for the popularity of the Olympics, YouTube TV added multiple features for higher quality streaming, making a new $20/month subscription to watch the games in 4K. Viewers will also be able to “jump to the sport they care most about while in a recording of multiple events,” writes Dade Hayes for Deadline, with “augmented search tools” allowing for users to “search the sports they want and add them to their DVR.” Specifically for this year’s Olympics, YouTube TV will have a medal counter for subscribers, “reflect[ing] how each country is faring in Tokyo in real time.”
TikTok Rival Makes History For Olympics Streaming
In late June, Kuaishou — considered TikTok’s main competitor in China — became the first “short video and livestreaming platform” to receive the rights to broadcast not just this Olympics, but the next one — the Winter Olympics, to be held in Beijing — from CCTV. The permission means that Kuaishou, which has 1 billion “monthly active” users (compared to TikTok’s 1.2 billion), will continue its strategy of streaming “various officially sanctioned events.” According to Variety, this is part of Kuaishou’s efforts to grow internationally. The company plans to “pilot new interactive features during its Olympics coverage.”
For NBCUniversal, Summer Olympics Are A Test
Last summer, higher-ups at NBCUniversal reportedly hoped that the Olympics would “supercharge” subscription to Peacock, its new streaming service, launching the platform during the summer months in an effort to simultaneously drive new viewers there. “Now Peacock is about to enter the most crucial phase in its short existence,” writes Gerry Smith for Bloomberg, as Comcast execs work to resolve questions like “how ambitious they want to be internationally and how to persuade more people to upgrade to its paid tier.”
Part of these efforts will include making all of the Olympic games totally free to stream — except for USA Men’s Basketball, “typically one of the Olympics’ most popular sports,” which viewers can subscribe to Peacock to watch for $4.99/month.
This decision is a significant departure from Peacock’s pre-launch branding, which boasted that “the service would stand out from rivals because it would be free and supported by ads.” Now, Peacock is experimenting with “freemium” content by putting some of its most popular shows — like all of The Office and the Stanley Cup finals — behind a paywall. They’ll add to this decision in 2022 by removing all Universal films from HBO Max. After the films have a theatrical release, they’ll be available only on Peacock with a subscription.
In April 2021, 80% of Peacock users streamed for free on the site. According to Bloomberg, since Peacock’s launch, the site has 42 million subscribers, but just 14 million regularly use the site monthly. Comcast will invest $2 billion in Peacock for its first two years operating, but higher-ups at Comcast may be unwilling to continue funding the site after 2025, Peacock’s anticipated first year out of the red.
For the Olympics, Peacock is pulling in some big names to commentate on the event: comedian Amber Ruffin will be covering the events from Tokyo, while Kevin Hart and Snoop Dogg will have a recap highlights show on the platform, creatively titled Olympic Highlights with Kevin Hart and Snoop Dogg.
~Catch up on Dirt~
- Jason Diamondchats with Christine Rhee about #FakeNYRB
- Hope Corrigan describes the Instagram “digital moodboard”
- Molly Lipson reviews Mortel,“the French show slyly decolonizing Netflix”
— following stellar reviews of the new Anthony Bourdain documentary Roadrunner, critics are squeamish about the reveal that director Morgan Neville deepfaked the chef’s voice for several lines of voiceover — Lil Nas X has done it again: after live tweeting his anxiety leading up to his day in court against Nike for his “Satan Shoes,” released as a promo for his spring smash hit, “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name),” Lil Nas X revealed that the posts were part of a publicity stunt for the release of his new song, “Industry Baby” — Mat George, the cohost of podcast She Rates Dogs, died last week at the age of 26 in a hit and run. Michaela Oakland, George’s podcasting partner, tweeted, “Whenever you think about him in the future, please do talk about him” — in an interview, Nicolas Cage described his collaboration with a pig named Brandy in the upcoming movie, Pig. “If I needed a soulful expression, I’d put a carrot behind the camera and she’d look at the carrot and the carrot made her look at me with love,” Cage said — On an episode of the Talking Sopranos podcast,Ricky Gervais revealed that the late, great Sopranos star James Gandolfini “was paid $3 million to turn down a role as a new boss in The Office”
— “Industry Baby” and “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” and “Heads Will Roll” and “1999 - EASYFUN Remix” on repeat when I’m excited — “4th of july” by Hand Habits and “Farm” by Skullcrusher when I’m blue — Bridgerton –— Regé-Jean Page’s opening monologue on SNL— By Eliza Levinson