Celebrate the Facts!
Old school dating, where people became acquainted through personal social interaction, was upended by the Internet in 1994, and an entire generation of Americans has become acclimated to online dating. The online dating industrial complex is now maturing and becoming controlled by corporate interests, homogenizing the experience, which has now become trite and boring.
Tinder, Plenty of Fish, and OkCupid are the top three platforms and all owned by the same company: The Match Group. The Match Group owns six of the top twenty platforms including four of the top five, for a total market share of 64% according to recent accounts. The Match Group, now a publicly-owned corporation, goes way beyond its flagship Match.com brand, and now includes 45 platforms. The second-largest competitor, eHarmony, with 12% of the market, is owned by the German mass media company ProSiebenSat.
Badoo is an international platform that had difficulty gaining traction in the United States but created a different platform called Bumble. The Match Group tried to buy Bumble for $450 million but MagicLab, the developer behind Bumble and Badoo, sold the company to investment firm Blackstone for $3 billion, so an intriguing startup became controlled by another stodgy corporate interest, further homogenizing the market.
For non-niche platforms, small amounts of funding are not adequate for the large marketing budgets that platforms require for customer acquisition. Additionally, investors are less likely to provide adequate funding to develop online dating applications due to an unacceptably high customer churn rate. The churn rate of a business is the loss of customers over time. Online dating is like psychotherapy, chiropractic, and surgery in that if it is successful the customer has no further need for the service. Negative churn is losing customers due to dissatisfaction and in this sense, online dating platforms lose customers due to low engagement. It appears the rate of positive plus negative churn is too high to sustain a startup and so seed capital is scarce. It is improbable that new competition will emerge in the United States market as the existing entrenched platforms cover casual to serious, all age groups, all sexual orientations, and so have captured the bulk of the market.
Niche sites, directed to special-interest populations, have trouble building the size necessary to turn a profit, unlike larger sites that offer substantial numbers of prospective partners. Smaller sites cater to unique interests, and the most unusual of these venues include:
Online dating only offers an interface as the content is driven by users. Attracting and retaining the correct number and types of customers is critical to survival. Maintaining the appropriate ratio of female-to-male customers is critical so steep discounts may be offered to attract users. Platform providers design social servicescape and interact with customers to influence their value creation process. Since customers are responsible for value creation the platform provider merely acts as a facilitator and monetizes that for the operating costs and profit.
The subscription model, where users pay a fee to use the system for a set period such as by the month, was the first system used in online dating. This forms a higher barrier to entry for use. These sites are focused on finding people a serious relationship and tend to skew towards an older clientele who are willing and able to pay. The ‘freemium’ platforms such as Bumble, OkCupid, and Tinder remove subscription requirements and make money for their services by advertising and providing upgrades for a price. The barrier to entry in these services is much lower and most users do not pay for premium services.
Customers with few interactions are more likely to question the platform’s value and terminate the service while satisfaction increases with the number of give-and-take communications so it is vital to the service provider to stimulate robust interaction. Platform providers monitor and encourage customers to communicate with prospects which assists in illustrating the value of the service.
A 2018 study evaluated aspirational pursuits in online dating and provided some interesting conclusions:
Trickery is a common strategy in online dating. People tend to describe themselves as holding the assets they think are important to the opposite sex. Men tend to overstate their height and women are more likely to underreport their weight. The magnitude of such misrepresentations was small - about half a year for age, nine pounds for weight, and about three-quarters of an inch for height. Such forms of trickery are common and may even be considered acceptable as surveys have found that many people believed that a bit of prevarication to get a date was tolerable. Partakers misrepresented themselves more when they were trying to get dates with physically attractive partners than with unappealing prospects.
An interesting study, albeit with a small sample number, provided an analysis of the accuracy of online dating profile photos. In this analysis, judges evaluated about one-third of the snapshots as inaccurate. Female photographs were judged as less accurate than male photographs; they were more likely to show them at a younger age, to be photoshopped, to be taken by a professional photographer, and to contain irregularities, such as differences in hairstyle and skin quality.
About a third of romantic relationships now originate from online dating so it is now a mainstream system. This research also shows that relationships originating from online dating are more successful than their offline equals, although effect sizes are small. Online couples were less likely to get divorced within 7 years, and among those who had stayed together, online couples reported greater marital satisfaction. These successes could be due to algorithmic matching such as used by platforms such as eHarmony although it appears this has not been empirically evaluated. More likely it is simply the result of people being able to screen larger numbers of prospects resulting in better outcomes.
As the online dating industrial complex matures, the platforms seem to resemble one another, perhaps a migration to a norm. Are the profiles then resembling one another, and the dating/mating habits also becoming more formalized? Little research seems to have been done in this area so the answers are more qualitative. Regardless the offerings seem more average, whiter, and more suburban, driven toward a new level of boring, swiping, standard, average type-ridden hoards of those attempting to find the most elusive thing it seems possible, love and acceptance.
Statistics on online dating applications were presented at https://www.toptal.com/finance/business-model-consultants/online-dating-industry. A discussion of investor reticence to fund online platforms due to unacceptably high churn rates can be found at https://andrewchen.co/why-investors-dont-fund-dating/. An interesting discussion of positive churn can be found at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1094670518795054. Information about Bumble was provided by https://www.ft.com/content/243bba62-4426-11ea-a43a-c4b328d9061c. An intriguing academic study was presented at https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/8/eaap9815.short. An analysis of deception in online dating was obtained at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1461444818792425. A summary of the study of the accuracy of online dating photos can be discovered at https://academic.oup.com/joc/article-abstract/59/2/367/4098407. The information on the success of online dating was presented at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/9781118540190.wbeic118.
Recycling is broken and the blue bin is not the answer. Current recycling realities drive recycling only by economically profitable recovery with the remainder landfilled – interred in huge cemeteries guaranteed to preserve the materials in an anoxic environment for millennia, leaking contamination into groundwater and emitting the most potent greenhouse gas, methane, into the air. Energy recovery through incineration, regarded as recycling by regulatory definition, contributes to global warming and releases contaminants into the air and is not a sustainable technology. Waste minimization is a critical part of solving the world’s climate change issue and the myths of the blue bin should go away.
The movement to urge Americans to recycle waste rather than simply dispose of it in the garbage was one of the most successful public relations campaigns ever launched, to good effect, as evidenced in the above figure.
The program has been successful and no thinking person would say otherwise. Regardless the rates of recycling have flattened over time and there are several areas that are noteworthy. Plastic recycling is only 9% due to most plastics simply not being recyclable and changes to both technology and consumer behavior would be necessary for change. Yard waste, eminently compostable, is being landfilled. Glass is largely not being recycled either and changes in packaging and consumer behavior will be required for change.
Total annual MSW generation in the U.S. has increased by 77% since 1980, to about 268 million tons per year. Per capita, MSW generation increased by 23% over the same period, from 3.7 pounds to 4.9 pounds per person each day, although per capita generation has decreased slightly since 1990.
In 2018 the United States generated 292 million tons or 4.9 pounds per person per day of municipal solid waste (MSW). About 69 million tons were recycled and 25 million tons were composted. About one-third of that ‘recycled’ waste was exported – part of the myth of the blue bin.
MSW materials that cannot be recycled:
Recyclables became a commodity good that could be sold. The Federal government adopted construction requirements in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) resulted in requirements for recycled content in construction projects. This helped the development of technologies to use these raw materials which meant the prices for these commodities theoretically increased, keeping recycling programs economically feasible. Many states and municipalities adopted LEED requirements which helped drive technologies as well as architectural and engineering knowledge.
Garbage haulers collect curbside recycled materials and take them to a sorting plant where marketable goods are separated. Formerly recycling required segregation into different waste streams – metal, paper, plastic - but no longer. Entrepreneurs developed equipment to sort recyclables, including magnets to separate different metals, and lasers to isolate dissimilar kinds of paper and plastic containers.
Companies or local governments then sell the goods to domestic or overseas buyers as a product, not a waste. Generators sent about a third of that ‘recycled’ material overseas, mostly to China.
The United States relied on cheap Chinese labor to set apart bulk waste into separate product streams typically then used as feedstocks for Chinese manufacturing firms. In 2018 China excluded 24 materials, including post-consumer plastic and mixed paper and raised the purity standards for other materials, and will formally ban the importation of all these materials in 2021.
Regardless of the Chinese restrictions, U.S. Census Bureau export data indicate the United States is still exporting more than 1 million tons of plastic per year. Countries like India, Vietnam, and Bangladesh, with lower wage rates, are now importing United States ‘recycled’ materials. Many of those countries are just dumping it directly into open-air landfills. Only 9% of plastic is recycled and as much as 2.4 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year, killing wildlife and destroying marine ecosystems.
A lot of what goes into those blue bins is not ‘recycled’ but landfilled domestically. Some states and cities prohibit landfilling plastic, paper, and cardboard, but some local officials — including in Oregon, Massachusetts, and various municipalities in Washington State — have granted waivers so that unmarketable materials can be sent to the landfill.
One of the worst offenders in the myth of the blue bin is waste-to-energy. In 2018 about 35 million tons of MSW were combusted in these facilities. Food made up the largest component of MSW combusted at about 22 percent. Rubber, leather, and textiles accounted for about 16 percent of MSW combustion while plastics comprised about 16 percent, and paper and paperboard made up about 12 percent. This meets the letter of the definition of ‘recycling’ as there is energy recovery, but the net amount of energy recovered is nominal or negative, and combustion of garbage is known to release levels of mutagens like dioxins and dibenzofurans in addition to greenhouse gases. The operators of these incinerators then landfill the residual ash which contributes to future environmental problems. In no way is waste-to-energy a sustainable technology or environmentally responsible.
Manufacturing materials overseas, shipping them to the United States, then distributing them to consumers, collecting the waste, sorting it, then shipping it overseas for ‘recovery,’ generates an immense amount of carbon.
The congratulatory back-patting and high-fiving over recycling rates ignore the fact that waste that is not created is not recycled and creates no carbon. The best way to fix recycling is probably persuading people to buy less, which would also have the benefit of reducing some of the waste created when products are made. Consumer waste minimization means redesigning products, processes, and changing societal patterns of consumption and production. Given the success of the recycling public relations campaign, such is not impossible, but it involves consistent and thorough education and product labeling, combined with regulatory requirements that mandate packaging of consumer products be minimized.
Waste minimization for the home is simple:
Another alternative is legislating Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) which is a tactic to place shared accountability for product management on the producers, distributors, and retailers involved in consumer products. EPR is a regulatory strategy to encourage product design and packaging changes to minimize a negative impact on the environment at every stage of the product's lifecycle. For instance, this would require cell phone manufacturers to recover used cell phones and responsibly recycle them.
This investigation poses certain questions for debate:
Raw data on waste generation and recycling was obtained at www.epa.gov. A robust presentation of China’s policy changes was obtained at https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/03/china-has-stopped-accepting-our-trash/584131/. A discussion of the state of the waste-to-energy status was presented at https://www.waste360.com/waste-energy/state-waste-energy-us. Recycling bulk commodity prices were provided by http://stuffrecycling.com/pricing.
Over the past 30 years, sports ranging from NCAA football and basketball to professional sports to quasi-sports such as professional wrestling have boomed. The sports-industrial complex diversified marketing and brought new demographics into attendance and more importantly viewership resulting in a tremendous overvaluation of franchises. But COVID changed the game and the era is now likely over.
Viewership for virtually all professional sports was down steeply from 2019:
Industry advocates contend other endemic issues were at fault for the deflated viewing and there may be some truth in these arguments. In late July sports returned after limits were lessened and the NHL and NBA seasons were stretched into the fall, while other events such as U.S. Open (men’s golf), Indianapolis 500, and Kentucky Derby were rescheduled. These proceedings joined regularly programmed fall sports; the NFL, World Series, and the U.S. Open (tennis). This overabundance of sports, they claimed, resulted in steep declines in viewing.
A secondary factor, they attributed, was President Trump’s politicizing kneeling in protest during the national anthem, however, NASCAR, which banned the presentation of the Confederate flag, much to Trump’s consternation, was only off 1%.
During the pandemic, faced with a lack of live sports broadcasting combined with more limited budgets, many viewers turned to free Internet streaming for home entertainment. Cord-cutting accelerated with a record number of consumers dropping their cable and satellite TV subscriptions as COVID fast-tracked the movement. About 6.6 million households will cut the cord this year, according to an industry estimate, with just 77.6 million still paying - a 7.5% decline.
A study sponsored by the smart-TV interface company Roku indicated cord-cutters were satisfied with their decision and wish they had cut the cord earlier. When asked what factors drove the cord-cutting, expenses were the top reason, as responders indicated they saved about $75 per month.
At the same time, subscription services have boomed including the flagship service Netflix. In December 2019, Netflix had over 167 million subscribers. By April 2020, Netflix had almost 183 million subscribers, increasing to nearly 193 million subscribers by July 2020. People were spending their money elsewhere for content other than televised sporting events.
As demand increased subscription services responded by universally raising prices. Hulu, an emerging provider, raised its price by an eye-popping 18% in December. Netflix raised the price of its most popular plan to $14 from $13 with premium tier costs increasing to $18.
For corporate sporting media companies that package these goodies and operate in an informal partnership with the leagues, be they professional or amateur, there is a much scarier possibility, that the power of habit will change the behaviors of the viewing public permanently.
Economics of lowered ratings affected the broadcasters and their permanent adjustments reflect their lack of faith in the market returning to normal. In April ESPN cut the pay of its commentators and executives, ostensibly to avoid furloughs and layoffs, and in November fired 300 workers. Other corporate media companies have had layoffs during the pandemic as well, including Fox Sports and NBC Sports.
People who earn their livings in the bubble of entertainment marketing may be inclined to presuppose one product replaces the next – in other words, other content has displaced televised sports. Another thought-provoking notion is home-based life may have encouraged other habits, such as spending time with a family, reading, creative endeavor, or exercising. Such developments would likely be much healthier than simply consuming creative products but that is a topic for another investigation.
The results of these developments prompt interesting questions:
A missive on NCAA football ratings was presented at https://footballscoop.com/news/a-look-at-the-college-football-tv-ratings-so-far-this-season/. A rationale for lower viewership was provided by https://www.forbes.com/sites/bradadgate/2020/10/29/an-oversupply-of-tv-sports-led-to-low-ratings/?sh=3bc14ef55071. Cord-cutting during the pandemic information was obtained at https://fortune.com/2020/09/21/cord-cutting-record-covid-19-pandemic/#:~:text=Cord%20cutting%20is%20breaking%20records%20during%20the%20pandemic&text=About%206.6%20million%20households%20are,drop%20on%20record%2C%20eMarketer%20said. The Roku-sponsored study was obtained at https://advertising.roku.com/newslist/cord-cutting-in-uncertain-times. Information on the Hulu rate increase was provided by https://deadline.com/2020/11/hulu-to-hike-live-tv-subscription-price-18-percent-disney-streaming-1234616402/. Information on the ESPN layoffs was obtained at https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2020/11/05/espn-layoffs-coronavirus/.
Tube pornography on the Internet has disrupted the pornography business, leapfrogging existing delivery systems, and perhaps accelerated the rate of change in human sexuality. Like Starlink, SpaceX, and Amazon have been creative destruction engines for their markets, Tube pornography has destroyed the existing production and delivery of pornography and in the process has posed ethical questions for detailed examination.
Tube pornography (Tube) is a pornography website with an interface like YouTube: user-uploaded videos, a system of ratings, and the number of views. Tube sites do not only encourage original content they do not discourage or reprimand users who post pirated content and so Tube sites are mostly comprised of hijacked videos from feature-length pornographic films. They are responsible for many thousands of lost jobs in adult films and cutting wages to about half for those who work in the adult industry.
This industry distributes salacious content to subscribers via the Internet and generates revenue through advertisements and membership subscriptions. While many industry companies are vertically integrated and involved in shooting pornographic videos, the majority simply manage adult websites and do not create original content.
The apparent largest is a site called Pornhub. Pornhub is owned by Mindgeek, a private Canadian pornography firm managing more than 100 websites. Mindgeek’s websites include Brazzers, ExtremeTube, GayTube, Men, My Dirty Hobby, PornMD, Redtube, SpankWire, Thumbzilla, Youporn, and XTube. As Mindgeek is privately owned, cracking the books and understanding the economics of their business model is impossible so one is left with a few breadcrumbs.
Mindgeek self-publishes its analytics for their flagship Pornhub. An examination of that data should take into consideration its validity, but regardless they provide some interesting data for 2019:
Tube sites have disrupted delivery methods and economics of the pornography industry and the rise of Tube sites and amateur content is responsible for much of this change. Professional porn producers and performers must now compete with the enormous measure of unrestricted porn available on Tube sites. With this amplified competition, the wages for porn actors and production employees have dropped significantly. Wages for female artists have declined from an average of $800 to $600 per sex scene, while male performers earn even less.
Camming is a new category of porn where players can interact with their viewers in real-time. Webcam performers are also able to shop themselves directly to viewers without the need for studios, agents, contracts, or corporations, giving them augmented control over their toil and eliminating roles in the pornography supply chain.
Moralists, primarily the religious, have made a cottage industry of finger-wagging and shaming viewers of pornography since it was invented. Certainly, that has increased as the Internet floodgates have released but one is compelled to wonder, given the consistent revelations of sexual antics by Christian leaders such as the Reverend Jerry Falwell, Jr, if they might be protesting a bit too much.
Arguments against Tube site pornography are manifold:
Pornography addiction is not a psychological disorder according to the DSM V. There is much debate regarding whether pornography use has positive or negative associations with sexual functioning problems. Multiple studies have reported no significant associations between pornography and sexual functioning in males while in females, pornography has been associated with better sexual functioning. Population studies suggested that increased availability of pornography is associated with reduced sexual aggression at the population level.
The exploitation of sex workers is a topic of much discussion but little action. As sex work is illegal in most parts of the world protecting this population seems hopeless. Legalization of sex work would allow for open discussion and allow for these workers to be covered under existing labor laws but this discussion is unlikely to happen in an environment of hyperbolic moral probity.
Simple prohibition of pornographic content is problematic due to free speech issues as well as its ubiquity on the Internet. Regardless, the prohibition of the forbidden never has been seen to consistently work in the history of such endeavor.
The questions of illegal content are troubling and should be examined. According to credible accounts, there are underage performers in some of these videos. The amount of such content is unknown. Pirated videos illegally harvest income due to the production company and hypothetically to the performers and should also be disallowed. Unfortunately, due to current law, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, this is difficult to manage.
Section 230 says that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider" (47 U.S.C. § 230). In other words, online intermediaries that host or republish speech are protected against a range of laws that might otherwise be used to hold them legally responsible for illegal content and particularly for content that is exploitive of children or depicts non-consensual violence. As this matter has recently become a tribal political matter with President Trump attempting to achieve legislative appeal, it appears it will remain stuck in political gridlock. Nevertheless, this should be seriously considered, both in this matter and social media in general.
Pornhub’s self-published statistics can be found at https://www.pornhub.com/insights/2019-year-in-review. A conversation about why people watch pornography can be found at https://doi.org/10.1037/adb0000603. A discussion of the effects of pornography can be found at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306460320307334. A meta-analysis of pornography and sexual aggression is presented at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1524838020942754. A moralist’s opinion piece is offered at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/04/opinion/sunday/pornhub-rape-trafficking.html. A discussion of Section 230 can be discovered at https://www.eff.org/issues/cda230.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.