Desperate for a positive


It was a remarkable thing was it not, when Germany beat Brazil 1-7.  That never happens.  But, a few lucky punters HAD predicted it.  They were covered in the papers.

The Guardian, remarkably covered it as:

World Cup 2014: gamblers win big after backing Germany 7-1 Brazil at 500-1

But as the story explains further down:

One gambler from the east of England won £2,500 after wagering just £5. William Hill said that none of its 120,000 customers who bet on the result had picked 7-1 as the final score.

The story was covered everywhere.  Here, here, in Russia, and in New Zealand

This raises multiple issues.

First, the imbalance between the headline – about a handful of lucky punters – set against the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of losing bets.  What’s that all about?  It’s akin to the story of the earthquake seen through the prism of the surviving baby.  Look, the sad news is that 160,000 died, but on the other hand, a miracle baby was saved, by the ‘the mercy of God’ apparently…

Next, consider the ‘winning’ gamblers.  A crazy winning bet isn’t a sign of luck but a window into the world of desperation and misplaced hope on which the gambling industry is based.  We can only guess how much they were gambling before, but what about this impact of this win?  A life spent fruitlessly looking to repeat the trick?  The impact of this fluke will almost certainly be more bets, and a net loss.

Finally, the curious interaction between our desire for entertainment, the newspapers’ need to sustain the story (these reports were still arriving several days after the match), and the success of the gambling industry’s PR operation. Millions of their clients lose money, but they create a meme about winners, illustrated with photos of the happy punter with a stash of cash outside a bookies.  The newspaper and TV industries now make so much money from gambling advertising that one wonders whether they can examine the negative impact of this miserable trade.

What’s this got to do with TV? 

Well, I could get sniffy, in audience measurement terms, about the way we rate the occasional singular viewing behaviour (our own) above those of the masses (who actually matter).  But more broadly, consider the magnificence of the televisual experience – 14 million Britons tuned in, (and 33 million Germans).  This was an exceptional sporting event, but every night we gather to be entertained.   And then consider the crowd of opportunists that hang around it.  Newspapers and other news organisations, of course, filling space.  Nothing wrong with that.  Social media, of course, hangs around, joining in the chorus (and notice how a few tweeters are accorded more power than the silent majority).

And gambling slopes around in the background, like drug pushers at a club offering to ‘enhance’ the experience.

But wonderful TV programmes really don’t need these desperate stimulants.