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Dunkin’ Donuts Drama Is the Internet at Its Best

Dunkin’ Donuts Drama Is the Internet at Its Best

The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.

If you live on America’s East Coast—or date Ben Affleck—chances are you have an affinity for Dunkin’ Donuts. Even if you don’t like their baked goods or hate their coffee, you still know that pastel logo as a sign that you’re home. Same goes for the yellow checkerboard pattern of Waffle House in the South or the golden In-n-Out arrow out West. People feel brand loyalty to the Dunkin’ name. Or, well, they did until this week.

Actually, the problems started two weeks ago, when the breakfast food chain swapped its consumer loyalty program, DD Perks, for a revamped one called Dunkin’ Rewards, “designed to help keep you running all day long with the best that Dunkin’ has to offer.” Sounds amazing, but there was one problem: Coffee drinkers can do math. Soon, folks realized that, under the new program, they’d have to get twice as many points to get free drinks, and their beloved free birthday drinks had disappeared.

“What idiot do you think I am, Dunkin’?” wrote one Reddit user. “This reward system is CRAP,” wrote another. Someone called the removal of the birthday drink “a slap in the face.” In an excellent dig, a redditor with the handle PeepnSheep said, “Good thing I live 5 mis from a Starbs lol. RIP dunks, it was nice while you were actually rewarding, even tho you only got my drinks right ⅓ of the time.” There were calls for boycott; people were encouraged to submit complaints.

All told, it felt like the kind of consumer revolt only the internet can pull off. In meatspace, familiar restaurant signs unite people under a common love of “animal style” burgers or Mexican pizzas. Online, they come together to share their disgruntlement as well as their fandom. In recent months, chains ranging from Subway to P. F. Chang’s have altered their loyalty programs. Amidst a recession when rising food costs are leading people to look for ways to save, the internet is a place for them to mobilize when their loyalty becomes less rewarded. It’s also no surprise that a lot of the chatter on the Dunkin’ subreddit involved people just trying to figure out how to get the most out of the new Rewards system.

It’s unclear exactly what will come of all this. Maybe Dunkin’ will revert back to its old system; maybe customers will just give up on the chain and never come back. No matter the outcome, it’s a helluva way to ring in Posting Your PSL on IG season.

Netflix Struggles to Hold Its Place in the Streaming Wars

Netflix Struggles to Hold Its Place in the Streaming Wars

Yet, instead of filling out its catalog, Netflix is trying to diversify beyond video. Like, for example, beefing up the staff of the gaming service it launched in November 2021. “They’re going to pour money into branching out into different types of content to be as much of a four quadrant service as they can,” says Alexander, meaning they’re targeting not just men but women, and not just those under 25 but those over 25 too. “But at the same time, they’re aware the competition at this moment is stronger than it has ever been. They need to find a way to be Netflix again, and figure out how to revolutionize parts of this industry.”

But that costs money—which is why price hikes have been levied across large parts of the world. “From an analysts’ point of view, SVODs are still value for money, even with an increase in price,” says Gunnarsson. “You can watch as much content as you want for two pints in a pub, and have unlimited access to all that content.” According to Omdia, UK households subscribe to two services on average—half the amount in the United States. For now, Netflix, like Amazon, is seen as an anchoring service—one that users constantly have, switching out other, smaller competing services when they can afford to do so. “Netflix is the default streaming service,” says Andrew A. Rosen, founder of streaming insights consultancy Parqor. But that can always change.

With 75 million households subscribed to Netflix in the United States, Alexander believes that the service is close to its peak in the country when it comes to adoption. “What you’re really trying to do at that point is to reengage customers who may have left to subscribe to Paramount+ for a month or whatever it might be,” she says. Original content on Netflix, while some may find it underwhelming, falls broadly into two buckets: the reality TV and children’s entertainment that keeps existing subscribers happy, and the big action, drama, and sci-fi shows that reengage subscribers who have taken their business elsewhere. But lapsed subscribers are relatively rare for Netflix, says Rosen: “Their market churn in the US is like, 2.2 percent,” he says. “Their churn is low.”

And while there’s still plenty of room to grow in other markets, those users tend to bring Netflix and other streaming services less money per customer than in the United States, UK, or elsewhere. Average revenue per customer for Disney+ Hotstar in India, Brazil, or Mexico is around $1.06, says Alexander, compared to $6.13 in the United States. “It’s a huge difference when you look at tens of millions of subscribers,” she says. And to eke out the extra money from a market when subscriber growth slows to a trickle, as it has in the US and UK, you have to start raising prices.

Yet the challenge still remains that raising prices at a time of macroeconomic uncertainty is risky business. Rising gas prices, increased costs to heat homes, and squeezes on living standards driven by runaway inflation all have an impact on discretionary spending—which definitely includes streaming video providers. But there is another way to make money while maintaining and building customer numbers: tiered, ad-supported services. In June 2021, HBO Max launched an ad-supported, stripped-down version of its streaming service at a $5 discount to its full $14.99-per-month product. Disney+ is launching an ad-supported tier later this year, joining Peacock, Paramount+, and Discovery+. “Logically, common sense dictates that competition will necessitate more streaming services moving toward a hybrid AVOD [advertising-based video on demand]/SVOD model,” says Gunnarsson.

The Hypocrisy of Disney’s Response to the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

The Hypocrisy of Disney’s Response to the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.

Bob Chapek, The New York Times wrote this week, needed to emerge from “a crisis of his own making.” It’s been a long week for the Disney CEO. He started it by sending a memo to his staff on Monday stating that, while he and the leadership team stood in support of LGTBQ+ employees and communities, the company wouldn’t be making a public statement condemning the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida, where it is a major employer. Many who work for Disney, as well as Walt Disney’s own grandniece, weren’t pleased. 

Then, on Tuesday, the Florida legislature passed the measure, which restricts discussions of gender and sexuality in grade schools. The outcry continued until Wednesday, when Chapek did an about-face during the company’s shareholder meeting, saying, “Our original approach, no matter how well intended, didn’t quite get the job done.” Disney was now opposed to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

There’s some history here. Prior to the bill’s passing, the Orlando Sentinel reported in late February that Disney had donated money to every one of its sponsors and cosponsors. When that led LGBTQ advocates to call on a statement from Disney about it’s position, Chapek sent that Monday memo to his employees, saying that “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds”—and adding that Disney, instead, could bring about change “through the inspiring content we produce.”

Employees weren’t pleased with Chapek’s response. The Owl House creator Dana Terrace posted a video on Twitter saying, “I hate having moral quandaries about how I feed myself and how I support my loved ones.” DuckTales writer Benjamin Siemon tweeted, “I still can’t describe how much pain the Disney LGBTQ+ employee community is in today. We’re devastated.” The hashtag #BoycottDisney began trending. 

Walt Disney’s grandniece, Abigail Disney, also delivered a blow, claiming Chapek was “more worried about right-wing backlash” than Disney’s staff and fans. “The times for neutrality are long since over,” she wrote. “What is Disney for? Is it for pretending what America is about, or is it for defining a vision for a world in which fantasy, love, kindness, decency, and loyalty are bedrock values? Nothing about the ‘don’t say gay’ bill or about Chapek’s memo is consistent with any of those values.”

Putting the backlash aside, Chapek’s claims didn’t make much sense. He was saying that big corporate statements don’t have much impact and that Disney could create that impact through its content. (It was also a bit disingenuous; Disney had made statements about queer rights before, like it did in 2016 when the company threatened to stop filming in Georgia if the state passed a proposed law allowing institutions to deny services and jobs to LGBTQ+ people for “faith-based” reasons. The measure was eventually vetoed by the governor.) 

Futurama, Content Machines, and the Art of Survival

Futurama, Content Machines, and the Art of Survival

The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.

This story is apocryphal: Sometime in the 20th century, a woman approached Pablo Picasso in a restaurant and asked him to sketch something. The artist complied, and then requested a hefty sum for the work. His patron protested, claiming it only took him a few seconds to draw. “No,” Picasso supposedly replied, “it has taken me 40 years to do that.” Sources for this story are shaky at best. It appears, unsourced, in Mark H. McCormack’s What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School; some say it might have been adapted from a similar anecdote about painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Regardless of its authenticity, the point of the story remains: Talent and skill have value.

Theoretically, this should be obvious. Yet people act like it’s not. Over the years, in ways big and small, many have come to expect lots of art, much of which we now call “content,” to be free, or at least wildly affordable: music, performances, jokes on the internet, writing. In many ways, this is understandable. For years, the megacorporations that control a lot of these works drove up the prices on them, burning the fans who made them valuable in the first place. Meanwhile, a lot of creators weren’t being adequately compensated. If the Joe Rogan-Neil Young-Spotify dustup had any ripple effect beyond the obvious, it was that it shed light on how little music streaming services were paying working musicians. These are broad strokes, but the picture is clear. Not everyone gets what they deserve for the entertainment you enjoy.

This all came to the surface again recently with #BenderGate. For those who haven’t been following, Hulu announced last week that it is bringing back the animated cult series Futurama with 20 new episodes in 2023. There was just one problem: John DiMaggio, the voice of Bender, wasn’t announced as part of the returning cast. Reportedly, negotiations for his return hit a “standstill.” This week, DiMaggio got on Twitter to clarify. “I don’t think that only I deserve to be paid more,” he wrote. “I think the entire cast does. Negotiations are a natural part of working in show business. Everyone has a different strategy and different boundaries. Their ‘price.’ … Bender is part of my soul and nothing about this is meant to be disrespectful to the fans or my Futurama family. It’s about self-respect. And honestly, being tired of an industry that’s become far too corporate and takes advantage of artist’s time and talent.”

While every part of DiMaggio’s statement reads as authentic and true, it’s the line about the fans that struck me. Most fans on Twitter have been supportive of the voice actor holding out on the reboot, but that statement alludes to at least some who are perhaps bugging DiMaggio to once again be a part of their beloved show. While talking about fan entitlement would require a whole different essay, there is something else that lies just below that: fan devaluement. Generally, fandoms appreciate the work put into the things they love—obviously they do—but there can be a sense, especially with big film and TV properties, that everyone is well compensated, if not over-compensated. That actors (or directors or whatever) are being petty to ask for more money. They get equated with the wealthy studios that employ them. It’s a false equivalency. Their work brings joy to millions of people and makes gobs of money for those studios; they should get paid fairly for that.

This is one of the few cases where, oddly, joy might be part of the problem. The arts are seen as fun, one of those gigs where—to paraphrase a motivational poster—if you love it, you’ll never work a day in your life. The idea is that the rewards should come through the meaning people find in their work. OK, sure. But also, they have bills. Just because someone enjoys what they do doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be compensated for it. I love writing about pop culture, but it’s also my job. It took me about two hours to write this, but decades of research and reporting informed it.

Please, No More Tiger King

Please, No More Tiger King

The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.

OK, fine. I watched Tiger King just like everybody else. It was March 2020, the month the world became intimately familiar with words like coronavirus, lockdown, and Yo, do we need to disinfect these Doritos? It was a bleak time, one that seemed served by watching what my colleague Kate Knibbs rightfully dubbed a terribly “feel-bad show.” It’s not like the world is without a bleak hue now, but Netflix just announced Tiger King 2, and I can’t think of a show I have less desire to watch.

It’s not that Tiger King was awful. As far as documentary filmmaking goes, it had all the right ingredients—engrossing characters (especially Joe Exotic and his nemesis Carole Baskin), a lot of drama (the world of big-cat owners is wild, who knew?), and enough plot twists to fill a Christopher Nolan movie. It’s just that Tiger King was a time and place, and that time and place are gone.

I’m not suggesting no one will watch this. Some 64 million households watched Tiger King in its first month of release in 2020. Surely many of those viewers will return for more when TK2 drops later this year. And frankly, that’s in line with the state of nonscripted TV right now. Depravity sells. If you look at the rest of the nonfiction programming Netflix announced yesterday, you see the pattern clearly. There’s The Tinder Swindler, about a dude who pretended to be a billionaire lothario on dating apps and “the women who set out to bring him down”; Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King, about “a group of investors turned sleuths” investigating the mysterious death of crypto millionaire Gerry Cotten; The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman, which is a three-part series that is exactly what its title implies; and Bad Vegan, about a restaurateur, who—surprise!—gets conned by someone who claims he can build her a food empire, and, uh, “make her beloved pit bull immortal.” That’s three con artists and three hunts, by my count, each one promising more mess than the next.

Perhaps all of this sits uncomfortably this week because of the constant flood of news in the Gabrielle Petito case. For those who haven’t been following, Petito was reported missing earlier this month when she didn’t return from a road trip with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie. Soon thereafter, scores of internet sleuths picked up the case, scouring Petito and Laundrie’s Instagram and YouTube feeds and filling up many a TikTok FYP. On Tuesday, authorities confirmed remains found in a Wyoming national park were those of Petito, causing another upswell of attention.

It is, frankly, the kind of story that one would expect to see in a Netflix docuseries, and one that all those online detectives swarm around because of the intrigue those series build around cases like Petito’s. Sometimes an internet rally can help (see: Mostly Harmless, or the subjects of another Netflix docuseries, Don’t F**k With Cats), but people are already commenting things like “not to sound disrespectful, but I can’t wait for the Netflix series” on social media posts about Petito. And, as Joy Reid noted on her MSNBC show this week, the attention around her story is squarely a case of “missing white woman syndrome”—a public fascination that focuses on certain missing persons but rarely missing people of color or trans people or folks in other minority groups. Frankly, it’s all just a little unsettling.

This, to be fair, isn’t entirely Netflix’s fault. The streaming service wouldn’t make all these shows if audiences didn’t devour them. Perhaps it’s just unnerving that people devour them so much. Fascination with the darker sides of the human psyche is common—and as SNL taught us, everyone likes a good “murder show”—but at a certain point, it’s just too much. Being cooped up and escaping into the world of Oklahoma exotic animal drama in early 2020 is one thing; spending the next two years ingesting hours upon hours of con artists and swindlers and all other manner of true-crime content is another. The cat’s already out of the bag.


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