With Canada heading to the polls after a snap election controversially called by Trudeau, Jagmeet Singh, leader of the progressive New Democratic party (NDP), has quickly emerged as the most affable politician in Canada – and a powerful figure who is unlikely to become prime minister.
On that last point, Singh and party leaders disagree. He argues that, like the other leaders, he’s competing for a chance to govern when the country votes on 20 September. But although the former human rights lawyer may end up a casualty of a multi-party system that rewards Trudeau’s Liberals and the Conservatives, he could gain kingmaker status.
His appeal among voters comes as Trudeau has stumbled in the polls. Surveys have found up to three-quarters of Canadians disagree with holding an election during the fourth wave of the pandemic. The prime minister is trailing Conservative rival Erin O’Toole by three points. The rookie Tory leader has spent weeks closing the policy gap between his party and the governing Liberals.
On the left, however, Singh is looking to widen that gap. Running on promises to make prescription drugs available to all Canadians, cutting emissions to 50% of 2005 levels by 2030, writing off student-loan debt and tackling inflated housing and rental markets, Singh’s campaign has enjoyed an uptick in support since the election was called in late August.
With his youth and charisma, Singh, 42, has been compared to Trudeau, a leader criticised for focusing on optics over substance and policy. But at a recent visit to Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, Singh drew a stark line between himself and the Liberal leader: “I’m not Justin Trudeau. I’m not like him. I’ve lived a different life. I understand the pain of being not valued, not worth anything. Indigenous people have been made to feel that way for so long. And I promise you, I’ll be different.”
Born in Scarborough, Ontario, Singh spent much of his early life on the move after his father Jagtaran, a psychiatrist, took jobs at different hospitals. Jagtaran became an alcoholic and was abusive towards both Jagmeet and his younger brother Gurratan. Following an incident with their father, Jagmeet, then at university, took Gurratan to live with him.
Gurratan recently said: “I was getting a bit frightened, quite frankly, and anxious at home. And Jagmeet kind of, at the perfect moment, took me off to London, Ontario.” Now a provincial politician and adviser to his older brother, Gurratan added: “He didn’t want me to feel those emotions again.” The pair lived together in a small apartment, with Jagmeet taking several jobs as he juggled his university work.
Jagmeet Singh’s story of persistence over adversity, and his gift for mingling with crowds, made him a strong favourite when the party voted for a new leader in 2017.
But his initial honeymoon was shortlived: veterans of the New Democrats fled amid infighting and backstabbing. The party bled money, and weak poll numbers suggested Singh would need to fight hard to both win himself a seat in parliament and prevent the party from splintering nationally.
His popularity soared after a powerful debate performance in the 2019 election, but the cash-strapped party could do little to capitalise on the success. Two years later, and with far more funding, Singh’s face is plastered across billboards, public transport, social media – and on newly released “Jagmeet swag”, including T-shirts celebrating “the Jagmeet UpriSingh”. He also has an immense following on TikTok, where his videos, ranging from policy critiques to clips of him skateboarding, regularly get millions of views.
“It is a personality-driven app. If you have charisma and you have personality on camera, that’s going to benefit you.” said Wave Wyld, a Toronto-based TikTok consultant. “There’s aren’t a lot of politicians on TikTok.”
In contrast, she points to Trudeau’s use of photo-ops, rather than videos, highlighting the different ways they engage with social media.
“Trudeau’s not making entertaining, compelling videos. He’s just talking to the camera in a professional, serious tone about what he stands for,” she said. “But on TikTok, the culture is very playful and light-hearted. And Jagmeet has also played into that. It makes him relatable – you don’t take yourself too seriously on the app.”
But TikTok views mean little unless Singh can convert them into votes. Under Canada’s parliamentary system, where the country elects local candidates to the house of commons instead of casting a ballot for party leaders, Singh’s favourability only takes him so far.
“People often think of the NDP as a third party, not as an alternative to government,” said Lori Turnbull, professor of political science at Dalhousie University. “Singh’s ability to grow his popularity effectively maxes out because people don’t think they’re going to form a government. The electoral system is no friend to him.”
Barring a political miracle, his party is set to capture far fewer than the 170 seats needed for a majority – putting the New Democrats in third place. But if polling projections prove correct and a minority government is elected, Singh could hold the balance of power in Ottawa.
For the past two years, his party has propped up the Liberals. Singh claims his party got concessions on emergency coronavirus benefits – but Turnbull says he didn’t go far enough. “He should have been harder on Trudeau. He should have had more to show for the NDP support,” she said.
In the last election, Singh refused to work with then Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. But this time he has expressed an openness to collaborating with O’Toole on policies that both parties say are priorities, including childcare and housing.
A shift in Trudeau’s political fortunes could produce a scenario in which the Conservatives win more seats than the Liberals, but still need another party’s support to govern.
“Singh … doesn’t want to be in the back seat of the Liberal car. He wants a presence in shaping policy,” said Turnbull. “If he and O’Toole sense they can bring down Trudeau, it might be a prospect too juicy to pass up.”
I’m going to try to convince you that you should care about exactly how many people watched the moral panic-inducing hit Netflix series Squid Game. Yes, I know there’s a lot going on in the world. But bear with me: I think this really matters regarding how we understand our culture – and the balance of power in a media business where data is king.
(As a treat, if you stick with this newsletter then further down I’ll tell you about some of the biggest flops that Netflix would prefer you didn’t know about.)
In the past it was simple to find out how many people watched a popular television show. Audience figures for traditional television broadcasts have been produced in a similar way for decades. Research companies recruit a group of households considered to be statistically representative of the general population (in the UK this is done by Barb, in the US by Nielsen) and then their viewing habits are monitored, often using a box attached to their television set.
This data is then processed and used to produce industry-standard television ratings that can make or break careers. Journalists love these figures because you can make narratives out of them! It’s why you see headlines in news outlets about how half of the UK watched a football match, or how no one watched a new rightwing news channel.
These figures are made public, in part, because commercial television channels have advertisers. And advertisers need to know their adverts are actually being watched, so they need reliable and trustworthy numbers produced by a third-party organisation. Sure, this survey system is flawed, but broadly speaking it is equally flawed for everyone. You can tell if a programme on BBC is much more popular than a show on ITV, and you can tell if a particular drama massively outperformed what you’d expect.
Then Netflix and subscription streaming services came along. They don’t have advertisers. Their aim is to hook, retain, and encourage customers to keep using their service until it becomes so ingrained in their lives that they can never stop paying their monthly subscription fee. Core to working out how to do this is the data they collect on you.
Because Netflix knows exactly what shows you watch. They know how many seconds you lasted with each programme, when you got bored, what you put on instead when you got bored, and exactly what time of night you were watching that smutty foreign series. And it’s really not in Netflix’s interest to share this information with journalists, their rivals, or with the people who make the shows.
Which brings us back to the original question: How many people watched Squid Game? And why does it matter?
Well, if you believe Netflix, who occasionally drip-feed out positive ratings stories when it suits them, by last night Squid Game had been watched by 142 million households, making it one of the biggest hits ever.
But we’ve only got Netflix’s word to go on for that figure. And even then, Netflix currently defines a viewer as someone who watched the first two minutes of a show’s opening episode. Did you put Squid Game on for a few minutes to check out the hype then get bored? Well, you might be surprised to find you’re counted to be just as much a “fan” of the show as someone who watched all nine episodes back-to-back.
Journalistically, it’s a challenge. We end up having to accept Netflix’s word for the figures they provide because there’s simply no other option. It also enables the streaming outlets to selectively publish the narrative that they want to construct. It’s sexy and cool to trumpet your investment in high-end original drama. (And hell, Netflix really is investing incredible sums in high-end original drama!) It’s less sexy to admit that your critically acclaimed show was a ratings flop and people just want to watch endless repeats of Grand Designs.
What’s more, it warps our perceptions of audiences and what is popular in culture. Is a Netflix drama more popular than a BBC drama? Possibly. This may have enormous implications for the future of whether we still need the licence fee. Does the public really engage with Oscar-nominated state-of-the-nation films or secretly sit there watching another Adam Sandler release? With the culture wars grinding on, it’s probably worth knowing. What are the truly unifying television moments that bind a society together? It’s hard to be sure. Because we can’t get the data out of Netflix.
The truth is out there
Except … one small family business based in Bristol has worked out how to do just that. The staff at Digital i, an analytics firm, realised that while Netflix won’t release viewing figures, it does release data to members of the public about their personal viewing history.
(It’s true, you can see an overview of your recent Netflix viewing history, or you can download every bit of data that Netflix holds on you by visiting this link. In my case, it reveals that I was really binge-watching an awful lot of episodes of The Good Wife in 2015.)
Digital i realised that if they could convince thousands individuals to willingly hand over this personal viewing history in return for a small payment, the company can effectively create a statistically rigorous survey panel, then use this to create audience “ratings” for Netflix shows and sell this data to rivals. At the moment they have users signed up in five major European countries but they hope to expand globally.
“We’re trying to level the playing field for Netflix competitors,” said Sophia Vahdati from the company, who says their customers include the likes of BBC and ITV.
Her company has shone a light on one of Netflix’s biggest secret: how much of their audience is viewing endless repeats of old shows, because people binge high-profile original series in such a short period of time.
“The biggest thing that isn’t mentioned in the hype is how important sitcoms are to retaining Netflix subscribers,” she said, highlighting the availability of Brooklyn 99 and Big Bang Theory as just as core to Netflix’s offering as their buzzy acclaimed shows.
Here’s some of the findings of their Digital i’s data from its UK audience research that she shared with the Guardian:
British Netflix users spent more time watching old episodes of Friends in 2020 than watching big-budget original series the Crown.
The three most popular new releases in the UK during August were Clickbait (watched by 2.34m Netflix accounts), Hit & Run (2.1m households), and The Chair (1.64m). These are high ratings but Channel 5 can top them.
Sex Education Series 3 was released on the same day as Squid Game and performed just as well in Europe – but has had a fraction of the hype.
Shows such Bridgerton, Afterlife and The Queen’s Gambit were all hitting over 80% completion rates in the UK – meaning people were hooked and watched to the end of each series.
At the other end of the market, the five shows with the worst series completion rates were The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (just 35% of viewers finished it), What/If (45%), The Irregulars (53%), White Lines (56%), and Sex/Life (56%) – which explains why most of them were cancelled.
Any film that is watched to the end by 70% of people is a success. Martin Scorsese’s big-budget much-hyped Irishman? That struggled, on their metrics.
People now watch original series in a very short space of time – about a quarter of people who watched Squid Game finished it within two days.
Even though Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are not far apart in terms of signed-up users, Netflix dwarfs Amazon when it comes to people actually watching their content.
Oh and almost no one chooses to watch the credits nowadays. Sorry to everyone who made the programmes, we’ve already autoplayed the next episode.
So why does all this matter?
A lack of transparency changes the balance of of power when it comes to small companies negotiating with a global giant such as Netflix.
One independent producer who sold a film to Netflix suspects their release performed well, based on online reaction. But they told me that they just don’t know: “Netflix doesn’t usually give producers information about viewing figures of films they made – which is both frustrating and very disempowering for producers trying to negotiate funding for the next one, with them or anyone else.”
And for Squid Game? Digital i reckons 79% of Europeans with Netflix on their research panel watched at least one episode within the first fortnight of its release – with half making it all the way to the end in that time. So it really is a massive hit. Just perhaps not quite as big as Netflix’s own figures would suggest.
Last night, the streaming company announced that they would slightly change the metrics they use and drop the “two minutes watched” measure in favour of total hours watched. But it’s still in the company’s gift when they make the information public.
Vahdati says her company’s data shows how the streamer can selectively release data to shape the narrative about their output: “The originals are punchy, sharp and aesthetically innovative. But at the heart of it we haven’t become a nation who like to be challenged all the time with foreign-language dramas.”
Oh – and if you’re one of the many Squid Game viewers, then no spoilers please. I’m still only two episodes in.
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Node.js 17 is out, loaded with OpenSSL 3 and other new features, but it is not intended for use in production – and the promotion for Node.js 16 to an LTS release, expected soon, may be more important to most developers.
“We put together the LTS release process almost five years ago, it works quite well in that we’re balancing [the fact] that some people want the latest, others prefer to have things be stable… when we go LTS,” Red Hat’s Michael Dawson, chair of the Node.js Technical Steering Committee, told The Register.
Aiven’s track record in the open source community which it plans to build on, has been praised by investors including IVP and World Innovation Lab.
Finnish cloud and open source company Aiven has achieved a $2bn unicorn valuation following the extension of its Series C funding round.
The total sum it secured in the funding round was $160m, bringing its total funding to date to $210m. The round was co-led by the company’s existing investors, World Innovation Lab and IVP, along with participation from others such as Atomico.
Several investors increased their funding commitments just seven months after the company’s initial $100m Series C round.
The software company plans to use the capital to expand its operations into the Asia-Pacific region by opening an office in Singapore. Aiven already has a presence in Helsinki, where its 230 employees work in various tech hubs in the Finnish capital reaching clients in Berlin, Boston, Toronto and Sydney.
“This is an exciting step for Aiven on our journey and indicates that our team is successfully delivering on our mission to champion open source and make the lives of developers better in all that we do,” said Oskari Saarenmaa, the company’s CEO and co-founder.
“The additional funding from our existing investors will allow us to rapidly expand our global footprint, significantly contribute to the open source community and support the growth of other tech start-ups,” he added.
Investment in the wider community
The company plans to continue its investment in the wider open source community. Later this year, it will launch its own start-up programme, which will offer participants one year’s mentoring as well as free access to Aiven’s data platform.
According to Eric Liaw, general partner at IVP, his firm originally invested in Aiven in January of 2020 “behind a belief that the company’s outstanding product and platform would enable companies of all sizes to manage their exploding data needs easily and efficiently”.
Liaw praised Saarenmaa’s leadership, adding that the Aiven team is delivering “tremendous value” for their customers, and that the company “has more than quadrupled” since IVP’s original investment.
Tsune Shirota, partner at World Innovation Lab echoed Liaw’s assessment of the company’s growth.
“Aiven’s expertise in open source and cloud is deeply resonating with customers, as seen by its quickly growing and diverse customer base of over 700 companies in over 50 countries. We are excited to significantly increase our commitment and look forward to supporting Aiven’s growth and its effort to drive further innovation in the data cloud,” concluded Shirota.
In February, Aiven’s CTO Heikki Nousiainen spoke to Silicon Republic about future data trends as well as how businesses can be successful with digital transformation.
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