Learning by Proxy | Television

Television has benefitted a great deal from our attention, those days seem to be coming to an end; We are feeding our children LOTS of plastic; Can I get a lung?

Television viewing peaked in America around the year 2009-10 where an average American household watched about 9 hours of television each day. I don't know how they found the time! Then smartphones happened. Today the average time spent on television stands at around 4 hours each day. That is a precipitous fall.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like people have become smarter and are reading more books. It's just the way they are consuming content has been changing. COVID is breaking television's back.


Philo Farnsworth invented the television. He even filed for a patent and got the patent as the sole inventor of the television. The patent was awarded to him in 1935. David Sarnoff, at the time, was running the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). RCA was the largest radio company in the world and by extension had a considerable share of the advertising dollars coming their way. Sarnoff also realised that the advent of the television would probably dent, if not completely destroy his business. 

In a true testament to American exceptionalism, Sarnoff got Farnworth tied up in litigation making it impossible for his to sell a single TV for the next 18 years. During this time Sarnoff hired a Russian scientist to work on developing the RCA television. Under pressure financially, Farnsworth took to drinking and his life and family fell apart. In 1939, at the New York World’ Fair RCA launched the television. Since they were the people bringing the device to the market, they decided to produce content for the television as well. It was to be operated under a separate company called National Broadcasting Company (NBC). Sarnoff’s victory did not immediately deliver through since the Second World War interrupted life.

Even as the war was raging, the Federal Communications Commission saw NBC as too powerful a broadcast company. In 1941, the FCC promulgated a rule designed to force the division of NBC. NBC was divided into two networks; NBC and American Broadcasting Company (ABC). 

That is the short story of how a young inventor was robbed of his invention by those with money and power. By weaponising the court system and using it to buy the time needed to build their business. This story will repeat itself many times in the future.

Television and the Cable network that was developed around it had a good run for more than half a century. That run is going to come to an end.

The beginning of the end

Netflix started its streaming business in 2005. It was a joke back then and nobody seemed to care about it. This was a time when the fastest internet would deliver a few Mbps; 3G did not exist; smartphones did not exist and the only internet available on a phone was called WAP.

Narayana Murthy famously said, “it only took me 30 years to become an overnight success.” In the case of Netflix, it took 10. In 2015, as 4G was penetrating the world; smartphones had almost penetrated 80% of the American market and Netflix was recognised overnight as a media giant!

A few things happened in the last few weeks that make the fate of television as we know it, more and more uncertain.

Disney made an announcement laying off thousands of people working at their theme park as COVID had taken a huge toll on the business. At the same time, they had also undertaken a re-organisation of their entire business to be centred around streaming. 

You see, under Disney’s new plan, the company says it is looking to streamline its direct-to-consumer business by enlisting a new division, the Media and Entertainment Distribution group, to decide how the content made by its studios—Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel, etc.—goes out into the world. Some of those studio offerings will still go to theatres, of course, but CEO Bob Chapek told CNBC this week

Source: WIRED

At the same time, they announced that the latest Pixar movie - Soul - would go direct to Disney+. Saying that the announcement got theatre chains riled up would be an understatement. With their business decimated by COVID, they need large ticket releases to get them back up on their feet.

But coming back to television; on the heels of the Disney announcement came another one…

“After 20 years of successes for the HBO linear movie channel in South Asia and more than a decade with the WB linear movie channel, this was a difficult decision to make. The pay-TV industry landscape and the market dynamics have shifted dramatically, and the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for further change,” said Siddharth Jain, SVP and Managing Director of WarnerMedia’s entertainment network in South Asia, in a statement.

Source: Inc42

HBO is no small fry. It has defined quality television programming for a long time now. Having to shut down their channel in India in the midst of a pandemic where TV viewing should have gone up, speaks volumes. No prizes for guessing who distributes HBO in India. HBO is exclusively streamed through Disney+.

I had written about the power Disney+ is amassing globally in April this year.

On the 3rd February 2020 in the USA, Disney launched its streaming business called Disney+. It was Disney making a splash in the streaming wars. Disney has amassed more than 28 Million users in less than a month of launching in the US. 10 Million users on day One. Now it has its eyes firmly planted on the entire world. Disney has a formidable catalogue of content at its disposal. Close to 100 years worth of content that Disney themselves have produced, they also own Marvel, Star Wars (Lucasfilms), Pixar and National Geographic. Not to mention ESPN and 20th Century Fox.

Source: Vivek

At the same time, Netflix is having a tough time getting people to stick to the Netflix Originals.

Just 3% of Netflix’s most-watched content over the last six weeks was produced by Netflix, according to an analysis of Nielsen data by The Entertainment Strategy Guy, a website that tracks entertainment trends. The tiny number emphasizes how much Netflix relies on licensed content to drive its growth. It also underscores the challenge the streaming service still faces in replacing that popular third-party content—some of which is now leaving the service—with equally popular shows of its own making.

Source: Quartz

Content is king. No matter how powerful a streaming service, the power is derived from the content on the platform. Netflix is set to lose Friends next year and as other content producers build out their own streaming services, the pressure on Netflix to deliver a high volume of quality content grows. Their trouble is everyone including Apple are waiting with their cheque books. 

Netflix’s next stage depends on its ability to create blockbuster franchises—an Avengers or Star Wars, not Bojack Horseman. In July, Deadline reported Netflix is throwing $200 million at a blockbuster action thriller starring A-list actors Chris Evans and Ryan Gosling, to be directed by Avengers: Endgame duo Joe and Anthony Russo. “The idea is to create a franchise and build out a whole universe,” Joe Russo told Deadline.

Source: Quartz

The one obvious thing is that the days of television as we knew it is over. Streaming has replaced it and has been amply helped by COVID. This in turn puts the fate of the device that we watch it on - the television - also on a slippery slope. After almost 70 years, there is potential to rethink that device. The next 10 years will be interesting to watch.


When past pandemics had affected the world, we did not have the wherewithal to protect ourselves medically. Since then, medicine has progressed by leaps and bounds. We can transplant almost any organ. When the world is faced with a pandemic which affects the lungs, what happens? The demand for lung transplantation goes up!

In April there was uncertainty about the possibility of transplanting lungs safely. By June, they figured out how to safely do it on COVID patients. Numbers are on a surge.

Now, donations are roughly back to normal levels. And luckily, there are ways that pulmonologists can try to increase the number of eligible lungs. During the pandemic, many transplant surgeons are considering expanding the criteria for lung donation, Bharat explains. In some cases, it may be appropriate to take donors who have smoked (although not heavily) or are as old as 65. Before, the cutoff age was 55, and smokers weren’t considered at all.

Source: Quartz

Unsurprisingly, the supply of lungs remains low.


My parents used plastic bottles throughout my childhood to feed me milk. Given how clumsy children are and how much they drop things, it must have seemed like the best thing to do. Turns out that these bottles are constantly shedding micro-particles of plastic. By certain estimates between 1.3 Million to 16.2 Million micro-particles per litre of fluid. I was a fat child and I suppose that means that I had many litres of fluids as a child. I estimate I could have had close to a Trillion micro particles!

Experimenting in the lab with 10 types of polypropylene baby bottles, representing two-thirds of the global bottle market, researchers at Trinity College Dublin found that the products released between 1.3 million and 16.2 million particles per litre of fluid. Then, by looking at rates of formula consumption and breastfeeding around the world, they estimated that an average infant consumes 1.6 million micro-plastic particles every day. In North America—where plastic baby bottles are more common and breastfeeding rates are lower compared to nations in the economically developing world—that figure is 2.3 million particles a day. In Europe, it’s 2.6 million, and as high as 4 million in France, the Netherlands, and Belgium.


Microplastics scientists say that we urgently need more research into how the particles might be affecting human health—and that maybe, just maybe, a study this shocking might help get that research churning. “I think on the one hand, yes, this might cause and support the momentum for human health studies,” says Philipp Schwabl, a doctor at the Medical University of Vienna, who penned a commentary that accompanied the paper. “But on the other hand, also it might be a call for action to scrutinize the quality standards for plastic containers which contain food.”

Source: Wired

As humans, we are working equally hard towards killing our own, as we are towards killing the rest of the species. We can absolve ourselves of some guilt! I give this research 3 months before it completely disappears. 

Do you know how plastics are produced? By-products of Crude Oil. Shell, Aramco and Exxon must be already working overtime to discredit this study.

Data Centres

That last search that you ran, that post that you checked on Facebook, that video you streamed; almost anything that you did, which required you to be connected to the internet probably pinged a data centre somewhere in the world. Data Centres are huge computer banks processing queries received from the users. Computers generate heat. You run something processor-intensive, like a game or video rendering you can hear how the fan in the computer whirs up to cool the processor. Data centres produce a lot of heat. Microsoft has even put a data centre on the bottom of the ocean because it is plenty cold there; they are also looking to work with SpaceX and put it in Space!


There’s a better use for that all wasted heat: heating homes and businesses that would otherwise burn gobs of fossil fuels. For the past decade, researchers have called on cities to close the loop and recycle waste heat from server farms to cut costs and carbon emissions.

Some towns listened. In 2010, Helsinki installed a massive data centre in a disused bomb shelter and piped enough hot water into the city’s district heating system to warm 1,000 apartments. That year, Parisian computer servers began heating a nearby arboretum. The Winnipeg Sun began using heat from a downstairs data centre to warm its offices in 2011.

Source: Quartz

In Iceland, every house, office, warehouse, etc is always heated. They use the heat from the volcanic vents to heat every build in Reykjavik. With the heat that data centres produce, this could be true for many buildings located close to a data centre.

Enemy of an enemy

China has not been doing itself too many favours in recent times. The matter of greatest contention has been the South China Sea. China claims almost all of it. This is critical for trade navigation in Asia. Not just that China has also been taking control of key ports through its ‘debt diplomacy’. In the case of Sri Lanka, China provided debt to the country to build a port, it knew would be unprofitable, only to later annex it when the country was unable to repay the loan. 

As a counterbalance to China; India, US, Australia and Japan have formed a Quadrilateral. They will be sharing military capabilities and are conducting a Naval exercise called the Malabar Exercise. 

With Quad countries going for a military exercise within a month of the Foreign Ministers' meeting, the next steps are already being planned. So Washington has put the idea of formalising it on the table. All eyes will now be on other Quad countries, including India, on whether to give it some sort of a permanent structure. China's response will be watched on this front, as the group ponders on ways to regularise the grouping.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said, “We noticed this development. China believes that military cooperation between countries should be conducive to regional peace and stability.”

Source: Times Of India

Apart from Russia, all the countries that China can count as allies are themselves in the economic doldrums. Not that Russia is in the pink of good health but it still is a large enough economy. Might they have pushed their luck too far?

In Brief

There is just a lot that has been going on so this new section!

Google got sued

I had written a piece on antitrust a while ago. Google finally got sued by the Department of Justice. Trump is not pleased with Bill Barr because he wants Barr to make better use of his time suing the Biden family, I digress. Google may not be in hot out yet. But one fact remains. 

Google pays Apple $11 Billion a year (yes that is not a typo) to put Google as the default search engine OR 1/3rd of Alphabet’s profit. Alternately, this represents 14% of Apple’s annual profits! If Apple was not important and represented only a minority of the market, Google would not pay as much. If Google did not have that much money to pay, the search business could be a lot more splintered. It makes both look bad.

COVID flies high

There is a winter surge coming. Ireland is the first country to go back into lockdown. We are adding almost 500,000 cases a day across the globe. This as India has almost halved the number of cases added each day. Trump’s super spreader events across the US are also causing an unforeseen surge in the mid-west. The next 90 days are going to be bad.

Up, up and away

The flagbearers


What would you do if you have had a horrible 6 months of business and there is a huge demand for your product?

and then

Sometimes they just can’t hold themselves back from telling the truth

We need some of this in politics all over the world. Politicians cannot behave likes they belong to different countries.

Do you know how a Swiss army knife is made?

When your country is run by someone who has a doctorate in Quantum Chemistry and is a research scientist!

You have come this far, so I assume you enjoyed reading this. Please do subscribe! 

If you are not subscribing but still want to know when Learning by Proxy drops; follow me on Twitter @viveksrn 

It takes me time to write this and if more people read it and comment on it, it encourages me, so please do share this post with anyone who might like to read it.

What we think, we become ~ Buddha