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Jon Stewart and Apple’s Low-Reward, High-Risk Problem
Plus: A ‘Sleepy’ Assignment
Apparently, AppleTV+ has canceled Jon Stewart’s show on the service, The Problem with Jon Stewart. The problem with Jon Stewart, sources told the New York Times, is that he wanted to do episodes that touched on topics dangerous to Apple’s primary interests:
Mr. Stewart and Apple executives had disagreements over some of the topics and guests on “The Problem,” two of the people said. Mr. Stewart told members of his staff on Thursday that potential show topics related to China and artificial intelligence were causing concern among Apple executives, a person with knowledge of the meeting said. As the 2024 presidential campaign begins to heat up, there was potential for further creative disagreements, one of the people said.
There are two numbers worth keeping in mind when thinking about this decision.
The first number is a big one: $2.74 trillion. That’s Apple’s market cap, and that market cap is driven by selling phones and computers and earbuds and tablets, most of which are made in China and all of which are consumed by a broad spectrum of consumers in the United States and abroad.
The second number is a relatively small one: 40,000 unique households. That is, reportedly, the number of people who watched one of the first-season episodes of the show. The show did badly enough for it to be labeled AppleTV+’s worst-performing show of the second half of 2022 on AppleTV+ by the Entertainment Strategy Guy; the second season seems to have done a bit better, but it didn’t show up on the Nielsen charts as best as I can tell. In real terms, then, no one was watching it on AppleTV+.
You know what, let me throw in a bonus third number: 29.5 million. That’s the number of “views” this tweet with a clip of Stewart talking about drag shows has gotten on Twitter. (Nota bene: Twitter “views” are a completely useless metric, really, since it’s just counting every time someone has scrolled past this tweet, but the point is that more eyeballs landed on this, at least briefly, than probably every episode of his first season combined.) The clip was posted by someone with no relationship to Apple; it generates nothing for them except a potential headache.
The point here is a fairly simple one: AppleTV+ is not a profit center for Apple, but even if it was a profit center for Apple, no one is watching The Problem with Jon Stewart, which suggests no one is signing up for the service to watch The Problem with Jon Stewart. Even if a million people did sign up for the service for the three months or so his episodes would air, that would generate about $21 million, which amounts to roughly, if I’m doing my math right, .005 percent of the total revenue generated by Apple in FY2022 ($394.33 billion).
Jon Stewart’s show is the definition of a high-risk, low-reward proposition for Apple. He generates very little revenue but, thanks to social media, he has the potential to go viral at any time in a way that would alienate some segment of the voting/purchasing public and, more importantly, could destroy Apple’s working relationship with China, costing the company billions, maybe even trillions of dollars.
If Jon Stewart really did walk from his show because Apple wanted him to shy away from potentially controversial topics, well, bully for him, that’s great: I will likely never know, but I’m sure it’s not easy to walk away from an eight-figure check on general principle even when you’re worth nine figures. The whole thing is a reminder, however, that the entertainment industry’s decision to entwine itself with Chinese interests has had a real and measurable negative impact on the ability to tell honest and important stories about our time.
I hope you swing by our live show in New Orleans on Wednesday, October 25: I’m hosting a movie trivia happy hour before Tim interviews Walter Isaacson about his new biography of Elon Musk. Then Charlie, Sarah, and Mona are chatting about politics for an hour! We’ll see how many Jim Jordan swipes they can get in in one hour.
I reviewed Killers of the Flower Moon this week and though I appreciated and admired it, I’m a bit cooler on it than most of my critical colleagues. That said, I think we’re going to be talking about Martin Scorsese’s coda for years to come.
This Friday’s bonus episode of Across the Movie Aisle involves us talking about some of our favorite movie books and how they’ve helped us understand the art we spend so much time chattering about.
One of my favorite things about Spooky Season is Bill Ryan’s series of essays on horror writers; check out his latest on Algernon Blackwood, the best-named horror writer in the biz.
Will definitely be keeping an eye on Chris Fenton’s lawsuit against DMG Entertainment, given the implications this has for Hollywood and China.
RIP Burt Yong, best known for his work as Paulie in Rocky and its sequels.
Assigned Viewing: Sleepy Hollow (HBO Max)
I haven’t seen this since it was in theaters when I was 16 or 17, and I can say that one thing I really appreciate about this movie more now than I did on release is that Tim Burton has Johnny Depp play Ichabod Crane like a CSI detective, except a CSI detective who has no idea what he’s doing or why. For instance, at one point, Crane admonishes people for moving a corpse and he’s like “Everyone knows you never move the body!” and someone asks why and he just squints and moves on, clearly unsure why everyone knows this. It absolutely cracked me up for some reason while rewatching it this week. (Also of note: it appears as though HBO has the new 4K transfer; it looks great, sort of darkly glossy, if that’s a thing. Though I’d love to watch it uncompressed on a disc.)