Among winter traditions, the annual firing of coaches following the NFL and college football seasons has become one of the more reliable.
Then again, as Los Angeles Times sports columnist Chris Dufresne observed while belittling USC fans seeking to oust Steve Sarkisian halfway through his first season, while nobody should weep for a well-paid coach, he “does have the misfortune of presiding over a whiny, entitled franchise in the shameless era of dingbat social media.”
Then again, with what Trojan boosters pay for the privilege of watching their team, a certain degree of entitlement comes with the territory. And while football tickets are generally pricier than cable or streaming subscriptions, the same combination — a sense of entitlement, fueled and heightened by social media — appears to be subtly altering the way many consumers interact with entertainment options as well.
Think about it this way: Just a few decades ago, everyone still thought of television as being “free.” Sure, you had to sit through advertising in exchange for watching a show, but if you didn’t like it, you could simply change channels. No harm, no foul.
Today, almost everything comes at a price. Even the broadcast networks are lobbying for sweetened retransmissions fees, adding to the pressure on cable, satellite or telco bills. And while there are various cut-the-cord alternatives, almost all of them come with fees too.
Viewers, in other words, are not just fans of shows, but in a sense, stakeholders in them. And while much of the vitriol in the ecosystem can be attributed to the anonymity, immediacy and access of social media — as in “Tweet first; think later” — logic dictates the shifting financial dynamic is also a factor, with the migration away from a free-TV model contributing to how vehement and sudden the backlash can be when programs in which fans are invested disappoint them.
The most obvious precedent for this mentality resides in the science fiction realm, where fans of “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” not only hungrily absorb the content of those franchises, but also possess a strong proprietary attachment to the material, and often a clear vision regarding what directions they see as appropriate — or objectionable. Like sports fans, while they’re usually loath to separate themselves from the object of their affection, they are seldom bashful about letting their feelings be known.
Just to bring that full circle, nowhere is this truer than the nexus of entertainment and sports. For another L.A.-centric example, consider the hometown Lakers, who cashed in on the appetite of fans wanting to watch the 16-time NBA champions by launching a dedicated sports network two years ago in conjunction with Time Warner Cable. But then the team completely fell apart, leaving not just the celebrities and agents who occupy the courtside seats but every pay-TV subscriber in the vast Southern California market to help foot the bill for the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.
Creative talent has developed a standard response when it comes to dealing with such fans in the social-media age, maintaining that the loudest voices are not representative; that they themselves peruse online comments sparingly or ignore them completely; and that, in any event, artists must ultimately do what they think is best to realize their visions.
Still, something is changing in the interaction between fans and their pastimes. And while there’s invariably a gap between blowing off steam and tuning out entirely, the relationship appears to be evolving, in part, along with the growing price of cable bills and Imax movies.
Like that aforementioned USC coach, nobody need shed a tear for well-paid talent in Holly-
wood. But if the biz’s versions of “dingbats” occasionally drive creatives crazy, remember that with what the public is being charged, hey, its members are entitled.