Knowing Your Audience
The World Cup runneth over with news happy and sad depending on which country you’re from. Insight into the context of a situation is always tremendously important; there are no essential truths, only whether people believe them to be true or not. For cephalopods, of course, it was a dream World Cup. Paul the ocotopus in Oberhausen, Germany, managed to guess with pure luck correctly predicted every one of Germany’s World Cup results, single-handedly raising the profile of these water-bound creatures and their ability to cogitate about the outcome of sports matches, out-predicting those boffins at Goldman Sachs. For those who enjoyed betting with this facade of insider information, it was also then a great tournament.
The results of the World Cup also tell us that people (and nations) deal with loss in different ways. Argentina was apparently one of the teams that had expected to do well in the tournament. As The Economist notes, France and England returned home to a disgusted populace; Argentina, after being thrashed 4-0 by Germany, came back to a hero’s welcome. This is not because the Argentinians are particularly cognisant of fair play or giving everything one can. For, when the team returned in defeat in 2006, the reception was a “non-event”, as opposed to the weeping on the streets that took place this time. The way people behave though, is not always due to a single linear circumstance. The article suggests the “tens of thousands of fans” who turned up to greet the defeated players was due to the political machinations of the not-so-squeaky-clean Kirchner couple, who currently preside over the country; an attempt to boost their own poor approval ratings by throwing their support behind football, after gaining much gratitude from the man on the street by taking football matches off a premium cable channel and making them available “over free airwaves”.
Elsewhere, broadcasters enjoyed the riches of their coverage of the event. In the UK, the FT reported that commercial network ITV saw “advertising revenues increase 45%… in June compared with the same month in 2009 due to the tournament”. In France, Telecompaper reported last week that “despite the national team’s poor performance”, around two million people watched some of the World Cup on their mobile device, according to a survey for La Tribune. Viewing was only possible after downloading “a pay application co-developed by Fifa and broadcaster TF1”. According to the study, “between 3 million and 5 million people, or 8 percent of French residents over 15 years old, watched highlights on the internet.” In the US, over 24m people watched the World Cup final, with the networks purporting to be “over the moon”. Indeed, despite some of the jingoistic rhetoric spouted by Republican mouths on the unpatriotic desire to play football, as reported by the New Yorker, football is growing massively in popularity in that country. When the US was sent packing after losing to Ghana, Nielsen recorded 19.4m viewers:
“It’s not just more people than had ever watched a soccer game on American television before. It’s also more people than, on average, watched last year’s World Series games, which had the advantage of being broadcast live in prime time. It’s millions more than watched the Kentucky Derby or the final round of the Masters golf tournament or the Daytona 500, the jewel in NASCAR’s crown.”
Again, like the example in Argentina, it would be easy to point to a simple, linear cause and effect correlation, in this case that the US is finally warming up to football, despite having a plethora of other sports at their obsessive fingertips. What these record-breaking viewing figures actually give us an insight into is “the changing complexion of the U.S. population, particularly the growth of immigrant and second-generation Hispanic and Asian populations with deeper cultural ties to the sport.” With the national census recently completed, we should soon have a much clearer picture of the continually evolving melting pot that is America. Broadcasters around the world are beaming, but may need to manage expectations; some 58% of U.K. TV audiences expect to watch the next World Cup in 3D.
Insights often come about from studying behaviour, even the simplest behaviours, because sometimes we make presumptions that turn out to be wholly inaccurate. Just as Goldman Sachs did by presuming England would be a semi-finalist and just as Zeitgeist did presuming that an octopus with nine brains couldn’t predict the outcome of a football match.
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