The Weekender: June 26, 2015

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1) “Comedy Central in the Post-TV Era” (New York Times Magazine, 28 minutes, June 2015): What’s the difference between a segment on a TV show and the exact same segment on a YouTube channel? Tens of thousands of dollars. Comedy Central is thriving online and successful on TV, too. But the on-line audience is often ten or a hundred times larger, and that’s much harder to monetize. Comedy Central knows that digital-first is a risk, but it’s taking it anyway:

Viacom executives, [Viacom’s Erik] Flannigan said, “believed we were somehow leading the audience off the television. The phrase was, ‘We’re training them to watch a different way.’ I said, ‘We’re not training people — we’re responding to what they’re already doing.’ ” This insight is not Flannigan’s alone, and its ramifications are increasingly apparent in the ways entertainment is distributed, from video-on-demand releases for feature films to NBC’s recent decision to post online the first season of “Aquarius,” a new David Duchovny crime drama, after its premiere. Making entire seasons available in one go is a way to allow for the sort of series-binging that Netflix pioneered with shows like “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” — and also, ostensibly, a way for NBC to learn more about the relationship between linear [that’s industry speak for “TV”] and nonlinear viewership.

When I asked [Viacom TV exec Doug] Herzog if Comedy Central’s digital revenue was increasing at a satisfactory rate, he sighed, hesitating, and gave his answer off the record. Digital revenue makes up about “10 to 15 percent” of Comedy Central’s current business, according to Flannigan, which to him constitutes a promising increase — “fourfold, maybe” — from when he started at the network. His attitude is that the money will arrive eventually, and the network needs to be in position when it does. “You can put a ton of effort into trying to get people to tune in at 11 p.m.,” Flannigan said, “but the moment DVR broke the linear schedule, all bets were off, because not everyone wanted to watch at 11 p.m. — that’s just what the platform dictated.” By the same token, “If you’re not on YouTube and they want to watch YouTube, they’ll just watch something else on YouTube! It’s very hard to force people to consume the way you want them to consume.”

2) Don’t Forget: My Patreon page. If you’ve already pledged your support, thanks! The campaign has surpassed by expectations, and I’m glad it’s going so well. If you haven’t pledged but are thinking about it, and if you like the Weekenders, my next Patreon milestone is to make the Weekender an every-week, additional email. That goal is a long way off but I appreciate your support either way.

3) “I once tried to cheat sleep, and for a year I succeeded” (QZ, 13 minutes, June 2015).

Not sleeping properly causes problems, so we say that sleep is essential to many functions such as memory and cognition. But why we sleep and what ill-effect sleep deprivation may have remain poorly understood.

That lack of knowledge, however, hasn’t stopped people from experimenting with sleep. My experiment began six years ago, and today there are many more online forums dedicated to discussions around what is now referred to as “polyphasic sleep.” People have scoured past examples, such as the life of Leonardo da Vinci, to develop new polyphasic schedules. Like the Dymaxion schedule, the general idea is to break the large chunk of sleep at night in to multiple naps and thus reduce the total time spent sleeping.

4) “How A Fake Viral News Story Wrecked Three People’s Lives” (Buzzfeed, 14 minutes, June 2015). From the subhead: “When Zdzislaw Mołodyński took photos of an accident in his home town, he could never have known how the British press would spin the story – or the damage it would cause.”  Made up quotes, a guy in a Santa costume, and some weird cultural quirks combine to wreck havoc on some innocent people’s reputations. I read it twice, it was so weird. Sad, though.

5) “‘Prison guards can never be weak’: the hidden PTSD crisis in America’s jails” (The Guardian, 11 minutes, May 2015)

As soon as a CO enters a prison, he or she goes into battle mode. “We put on our armour. When you walk through the first gate, it clicks. And so does your back,” says Michael Morgan, an ex-officer at Oregon state penitentiary. “You’re in the pressure cooker” for at least eight hours – the duration of one shift.

Corrections wisdom dictates that you deal with trauma by not dealing with it at all. “They teach us to leave it at the gate,” said Morgan. “Eight and the gate” is the unofficial motto.

But even off-duty, the guards are always on edge. At an interview over lunch, Jeff Hernandez, another CO at Oregon state penitentiary, requested to swap places at a restaurant so he could sit facing the entrance of the room. This is a common quirk among those working in corrections.

6) “5,200 Days in Space” (The Atlantic, 29 minutes, January 2015). “An exploration of life aboard the International Space Station, and the surprising reasons the mission is still worthwhile.” It’s about space and science and … do you need another reason to read it?

Have a great weekend!