‘The Problem With Jon Stewart’ Is Ending ⇥ nytimes.com
Benjamin Mullin, John Koblin, and Tripp Mickle, New York Times:
Jon Stewart’s show on Apple’s streaming service is abruptly coming to an end, according to several people with knowledge of the decision, the result of creative differences between the tech giant and the former “Daily Show” host.
But 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.
I am taking the rationale cited in this report with a grain of salt. When working at the Wall Street Journal, Mickle was one of the reporters on a story about Apple’s apparent aversion to sexual, violent, profane, and dark media. It is hard to see that story as accurate; Apple has several shows which contain all of those things to some degree.
However, its geopolitical exposure was another rumoured point of contention. In 2019, Alex Kantrowitz and John Paczkowski reported for Buzzfeed News that Apple was one of several studios which wanted to avoid irking powerful people in China. It is risky for any large studio to be unable to show its productions in China but, as has become a normal point of discussion for me, Apple’s exposure is even greater because of its manufacturing requirements.
In February 2020, I wrote about this question:
[…] But there is unique risk in attaching a provocative entertainment arm to the body of a consumer goods company — one of those, of course, is the Apple’s relationship with China. Hollywood studios are choosing to censor films to have a shot at the lucrative Chinese market. But they, unlike Apple, don’t rely on factories in the country to produce the bulk of their revenue. It is not unreasonable to speculate that this is at least one of the reasons Apple is being particularly cautious about the portrayal of China in its original programming.
Apple is a big, sprawling conglomerate. If it cannot handle Stewart’s inquiries about China or our machine learning future, I think it should ask itself why that is, and whether those criticisms have merit.
Update: It would make sense to me that Stewart’s show could have been cancelled at least in part because of its popularity or lack thereof. But because streaming services do not disclose viewership numbers, we are left with only proxy measurements. On YouTube, for example, “The Problem” has 1.27 million subscribers while “Last Week Tonight” — comparable in both format and the host’s names — has over nine million. The most popular “Tonight” video has 41 million views, while the most popular “Problem” video has just four million. On TikTok, the ratio is reversed: John Oliver’s show has just 132,000 followers and less than a million total “likes”, while Stewart’s show has 897,000 followers and nearly seven million “likes”.
Those metrics are flawed for lots of reasons, but the main question I am left with is staring us right in the face: was Stewart’s show not popular enough for Apple? Surely it is not the least watched show Apple made — for what it is worth, nobody I know has personally recommend I watch even high-profile programming like “The Morning Show” or “For All Mankind”.