For those of you embarking on a course in economics, one of the first things you’ll come across is the distinction between microeconomics and macroeconomics. The news is full of both microeconomic and macroeconomic issues and you’ll quickly see how relevant both branches of economics are to analysing real-world events, problems and policies.
As we state in Economics (updated 10th edition), ‘microeconomics is concerned with the individual parts of the economy. It is concerned with the demand and supply of particular goods, services and resources such as cars, butter, clothes, haircuts, plumbers, accountants, blast furnaces, computers and oil.’ In particular, it is concerned with the buying, selling, production and employment decisions of individuals and firms. When you go shopping and make choices of what to buy you are making microeconomic decisions. When firms choose how much of particular products to produce, what techniques of production to use and how many people to employ, these choices are microeconomic ones.
Microeconomics examines people’s behaviour when they make choices. In fact many of the recent developments in microeconomics involve analysing the behaviour of individuals and firms and the factors that influence this behaviour.
Open any newspaper, turn on the TV news or access any news site and you will see various microeconomic issues covered. Why are rents soaring? How is AI affecting various businesses’ productivity? How rapidly is the switch taking place to green energy? How do supermarkets influence spending patterns? Why are wages so low in the social care sector? Why are private PCR tests so expensive for holidaymakers retuning from abroad?
Many of the blogs on this news site will examine microeconomic issues. We hope that they provide useful case studies for your course.
- Look through news sites and identify five current microeconomic issues. What makes them ‘micro’ issues?
- If world oil and gas prices rise, why is this a microeconomic issue?
- What do you understand by ‘scarcity’? How is microeconomics related to scarcity?
- Are all goods scarce?
- What is meant by ‘opportunity cost’? Give some examples of how opportunity cost has affected recent decisions you have made.
As an avid sport’s fan, Sky Sports and Eurosport are must haves for me! In the days leading up to the end of January, it was a rather tense time in my house with the prospect of Eurosport being removed from anyone who was a Sky TV subscriber. Thankfully the threat has now gone and tranquility returns, but what was going on behind the scenes?
Whether you have Sky TV, BT, Virgin or any other, we generally take it for granted that we can pick and choose the channels we want, pay our subscription to our provider and happily watch our favourite shows. However, behind the scenes there is a web of deals. While Sky own many channels, such as Sky Sports; BT own others and there are a range of other companies that own the rest. Some companies pay Sky for their channels to be shown, while Sky pays other companies for access to their channels.
One such company is Discovery, which owns a range of channels including TLC, Eurosport, DMAX and Animal planet. Discovery then sells these channels to providers, such as Sky and Virgin, who pay a price for access. The problem was that Sky and Discovery had failed to reach an agreement for these channels and as the deadline of 31st January 2017 loomed, it became increasingly possible that Discovery would simply remove its channels from Sky. This would mean that Sky customers would no longer have access to these channels, while customers with other providers would continue to watch them, as companies such as Virgin still had an agreement in place.
The issue was money. Hours before the deadline, a deal was finally reached such that Discovery will now keep its programmes on Sky for ‘years to come’. Discovery has indicated the final deal was better than had originally been proposed, while Sky indicate that the deal accepted by Discovery was the same as had previously been offered! Although no details of the financial agreement have been released, it seems likely that either Sky increased the price they were willing to pay or Discovery lowered the price it was asking for. Both companies stood to lose if the dispute was not settled, but it’s interesting to consider which company was at more risk. Following the announcement that a deal had been struck, Discovery shares rose by 2.5 per cent, while Sky’s share remained unchanged.
While Sky said that viewing figures on Discovery’s channels had been falling and that it had been over-paying for years, it seems likely that if a deal had not been reached, millions of Sky customers may have considered switching to other providers, who were still able to show Discovery channels. Although Sky has been looking to cut its costs and one way is to cut the price it pays for channels, failure to reach an agreement may have cost it a significant sum in lost revenue, as channels such as Eurosport are hugely popular.
Discovery claimed that the price Sky was paying them was not fair and that it was paying them less for its channels that it did 10 years ago. Susanna Dinnage, Discovery’s Managing Director in the UK said:
“We believe Sky is using what we consider to be its dominant market position to further its own commercial interest over those of viewers and independent broadcasters. The vitality of independent broadcasters like Discovery and plurality in TV is under threat.”
Sky claimed that Discovery was demanding close to £1bn for its programmes and that given that these channels were losing viewers, this price was unrealistic. A spokesman said:
“Despite our best efforts to reach a sensible agreement, we, like many other platforms and broadcasters across Europe, have found the price expectations for the Discovery portfolio to be completely unrealistic. Discovery’s portfolio of channels includes many which are linear-only where viewing is falling …
Sky has a strong track record of understanding the value of the content we acquire on behalf of our customers, and as a result we’ve taken the decision not to renew this contract on the terms offered …
We have been overpaying Discovery for years and are not going to anymore. We will now move to redeploy the same amount of money into content we know our customers value.”
Here we have a classic case of two firms in negotiation; each with a lot to lose, but both wanting the best outcome. There are hundreds of channels with millions of programmes and hence it is a competitive market. So why was it that Discovery could pose such a threat to the huge broadcaster? The following articles consider the dispute and the eleventh hour agreement.
Discovery strikes deal to keep channels on Sky BBC News (1/2/17)
Discovery channel strikes last-minute deal with Sky to stay on TV, saving Animal Planet and Eurosport Independent, Aatif Sulleyman (1/2/17)
Eurosport stays o Sky after late deal is struck with hours to spare between broadcasting giant and Discovery Mail Online, Kieran Gill (1/2/17)
Discovery averts UK blackout with Sky in last-minute deal Bloomberg, Rebecca Penty, Joe Mayes and Gerry Smith (1/2/17)
Is Sky losing Discovery? Eurosport, Animal Planet and other fan favourite set to stay International Business Times, Owen Hughes (1/2/17)
Discovery goes to war with Sky over channel fees with blackout threat The Telegraph, Christopher Williams (25/1/17)
- Can you use game theory to outline the ‘game’ that Sky and Discovery were playing?
- Is the ‘threat’ of stopping access to channels credible?
- Although we don’t know the final financial settlement, why would Sky have had a reason to increase the price it paid to Discovery?
- Why would it be in Discovery’s interests to accept the deal that Sky offered?
- Susanna Dinnage suggested that Sky was using its dominant market position. What does this mean and how does this suggest that Sky might be able to behave?
- What type of market structure is the pay-TV industry? Think about it in terms of broadcasters, channels and programmes as you might get very different answers!
In the UK, we take it for granted that if you need to see a doctor, you go and give little, if any thought, to the cost. It may be petrol costs, time off work or the cost of a prescription, but beyond that, receiving treatment is free at the point of use. Funded through a progressive tax system, the NHS is seen as being one of the more equitable health care systems.
When a mother gives birth, the main thing she will have to worry about is the labour – and not whether to have certain painkillers or stay an extra night, because of the cost.
The International Federation of Health Plans (IFHP) looked at data on the cost of giving birth, based on insurance company payments. For someone living in the UK, the figures make for quite astonishing reading. In the USA, a normal delivery will cost $10,000, while a caesarean totals $15,000, meaning that giving birth in the USA is the most expensive place in the world. The article linked below takes the case of Mari Roberts, whose total delivery bill came to over $100,000. The insurance did cover it, but that’s not always the case. Medical bills in the United States are one of the leading reasons for bankruptcy and with these types of figures, perhaps it’s hardly surprising.
Other countries also see high costs for delivery, where expectant mothers really do need to give consideration to the length of their stay in hospital and perhaps even whether they are willing to forgo a pain-relieving drug and save some money. There is often said to be an efficiency–equity trade-off in the area of healthcare, with countries offering a free at the point of use service delivering an equitable system, but with a lack of responsiveness to the demands of the patients. In the UK, you don’t pay to see a doctor but, with a ‘free’ service, demand is understandably very high, thus creating a shortage and waiting lists. In countries, such as the USA, a higher price for treatment does limit demand, creating more inequity but a responsive system.
There are certainly lessons that can be learned from all health care systems and living in a developed country, we should certainly consider ourselves lucky. There are many countries where access to even the most basic health care is a luxury that most cannot afford. So, where does have the best health care system? I’ll leave that to you.
Video and article
How much do women around the world pay to give birth? BBC News, Mariko Oi (13/2/15)
Research for Universal Health Coverage, World Health Report 2013 World Health Organisation August 2013
Health Systems Financing: The Path to Universal Coverage, World Health Report 2010 World Health Organisation August 2010
- Using a demand and supply diagram, explain why there may be a trade-off between efficiency and equity.
- If there is over-consumption of a service such as health care, does this suggest that the market fails?
- What are the main market failures that exist in health care?
- Is the concept of opportunity cost relevant to mothers in labour? Think about the country in question.
- How would you go about ranking health care systems if you worked for an organisation such as the OECD or WHO?
- Pick a country whose health care system you are familiar with. What changes have occurred to the way in which health care is organised and financed in this country? How has it affected the key objectives that formed part of your answer to question 5?
I am an avid tennis fan and have spent many nights and in the last 10 days had many early mornings (3am), where I have been glued to the television, watching in particular Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open. Tennis is one of the biggest sports worldwide and generates huge amounts of revenue through ticket sales, clothing and other accessories, sponsorship, television rights and many other avenues. When I came across the BBC article linked below, I thought it would make an excellent blog!
There are many aspects of tennis (and of every other sport) that can be analysed from a Business and Economics stance. With the cost of living having increased faster than wages, real disposable income for many households is at an all-time low. Furthermore, we have so many choices today in terms of what we do – the entertainment industry has never been so diverse. This means that every form of entertainment, be it sport, music, cinema, books or computer games, is in competition. And then within each of these categories, there’s further competition: do you go to the football or the tennis? Do you save up for one big event and go to nothing else, or watch the big event on TV and instead go to several other smaller events? Tennis is therefore competing in a highly competitive sporting market and a wider entertainment market. The ATP Executive Chairman and President said:
We’ve all got to understand the demands on people’s discretionary income are huge, they are being pulled in loads of different avenues – entertainment options of film, music, sport – so we just need to make sure that our market share remains and hopefully grows as well.
As we know from economic analysis, product differentiation and advertising are key and tennis is currently in a particularly great era when it comes to drawing in the fans, with four global superstars.
However, tennis and all sports are about more than just bringing in the fans to the live events. Sponsorship deals are highly lucrative for players and, in this case, for the ATP and WTA tennis tours. It is lucrative sponsorship deals which create prize money worth fighting for, which help to draw in the best players and this, in turn, helps to draw in the fans and the TV companies.
With technological development, all sports are accessible by wider audiences and tennis is making the most of the fast growth in digital media. Looking at the packaging of tour events and how best to generate revenues through TV rights is a key part of strategic development for the ATP. It goes a long way to showing how even one of the world’s most successful sporting tours is always looking at ways to innovate and adapt to changing economic and social times. Tennis is certainly a sport that has exploited all the opportunities it has had and, through successful advertising, well-organised events and fantastic players, it has created a formidable product, which can compete with any other entertainment product out there. As evidence, the following fact was observed in the Telegraph article:
A 1400 megawatt spike – equivalent to 550,000 kettles being boiled – was recorded at around 9.20pm on that day [6/7/08] as Nadal lifted the trophy. The surge is seen as an indicator of millions viewing the final and then rushing to the kitchen after it is over. The national grid felt a bigger surge after the Nadal victory even than at half time during the same year’s Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea.
Tennis top guns driving ATP revenues BBC News, Bill Wilson (20/1/14)
The top 20 sporting moments of the noughties: The 2008 Wimbledon Final The Telegraph, Mark Hodgkinson (14/12/09)
The global tennis industry in numbers BBC News (22/1/14)
- How does tennis generate its revenue?
- In which market structure would you place the sport of tennis?
- What are the key features of the ATP tour which have allowed it to become so successful? Can other sports benefit from exploiting similar things?
- How has technological development created more opportunities for tennis to generate increased revenues?
- Can game theory be applied to tennis and, if so, in what ways?
- Why does sponsorship of the ATP tour play such an important role in the business of tennis?
- How important is (a) product differentiation and (b) advertising in sport?
In the UK, we have a dominant public healthcare sector and a small private sector. In the blog Is an education monopoly efficient? we looked at the idea of an education monopoly and why that may create inefficiencies in the system in comparison with competitive private markets. Does the same argument hold for the market for healthcare? The NHS is largely a state monopoly, although market forces are used in certain areas, which does bring some benefits of competition. However, was the NHS to be privatized, would we see further efficiency gains? As we stated in the previously mentioned blog: ‘the more competition there is, the more of an incentive firms have to provide consumers with the best deal, in terms of quality, efficiency and hence price.’
Privatisation of the NHS has always been regarded with skepticism – of all the British welfare state institutions, the NHS is the most symbolic. However, we have recently seen a takeover of a NHS hospital by a private firm. It’s not privatisation, but it is a step towards a more privately run healthcare system.
Hinchingbrooke hospital in Cambridge is only small, but has a history of large debts – £40m and yet only a turnover of about £105m. This new strategy will still see the NHS owning the hospitals, but the private firm becoming liable for the hospital’s debts and essentially taking over the running of it. However, Circle aims to repay all the debts within 10 years and make a profit. There are many skeptics of this bold new approach, suggesting that Circle’s numbers don’t add up, especially with the flat NHS spending we’re going to see. However, the firm does have a positive track record in terms of making efficiency savings and whilst success will undoubtedly be a good thing – it may bring up some pertinent questions for the way in which the NHS is and should be run.
Hinchingbrooke hospital deal shakes up NHS Financial Times, Nicholas Timmins (10/11/11)
Failing NHS hospital is taken over by private firm for the first time in history Mail Online, Jenny Hope (11/11/11)
Andrew Lansley’s NHS is all about private sector hype Guardian, John Lister (11/11/11)
Circle clinches hospital management deal Reuters, Tim Castle (11/11/11)
Will profits come before patients in a hospital run by a private company? Independent, Oliver Wright (11/11/11)
Hospital group’s liabilities capped at £7m Financial Times, Sarah Neville and Gill Plimmer (10/11/11)
First privately run NHS hospital ‘is accident waiting to happen’ Guardian, Randeep Ramesh (10/11/11)
Government rejects hospital privatisation claims BBC News, Democracy Live (10/11/11)
- What are the benefits of competition?
- What are the market failures within the healthcare market? To what extent do you think that public sector provision (in the form of the NHS) is the most effective type of intervention?
- Is this just the first step towards privatisation of healthcare?
- Do you think private ownership of hospitals with significant debts is a good strategy?
- Why do you think Unison have argued that Circle’s takeover is ‘an accident waiting to happen’?
- Does privatisation mean that profits will be more important than patient care?