I admit that I’m a little bit of a geek when it comes to new technology, especially internet technologies. Plus, I think it helps me keep a good handle on opportunities for The Disney Blog. Today, I’m finding the writings of three uber-geeks, who also write Tech blogs and/or run tech companies, to be very insightful as to the current writer’s strike in Hollywood.
Keep in mind, this isn’t just about the writers who are on strike. It’s about the whole entertainment industry coming to terms with a giant shakeup of their business that has slowly been shifting the ground out front underneath them over the last 20 years. Today the ground is very thin and parts of it are acting like quicksand sucking up profits, business models, and whole industries (record labels, for instance) at a gulp.
This has everyone nervous, especially writers who last went on strike 20 years ago and who last negotiated a contract with the studios before the DVD was even a blip on the radar, let alone iTunes, YouTube, or whatever crops up in the next 3 months. The writers, who for the most part don’t make a regular living at their craft, see the studios and the studios executives making big profits and huge salaries (some of the salaries and severance packages of the past few years would pay for all of what the writers are requesting, btw) and just want to know that when the studios get paid, writers get paid.
Marc Andreessen, who is probably best known for creating the Netscape browser that revolutionalized the use of the WWW and now runs NING.com (which you’ll hear more about here on The Disney Blog shortly) a social network network, asks on his blog why today’s studio moguls, when faced with the above seismic shift don’t look to some of the industry’s founders.
Is this really the right time to pick a fight with the writers over royalties from DVD and Internet sales, leading to an industry-wide shutdown and massive economic pain for all sides in the world of traditional scripted film and television content?
If you’re a mogul, the key question has to be, what would the founders of my industry have done in this situation? Really, what would they have done? Thomas Edison, Darryl Zanuck, Jack Warner, Irving Thalberg, Adolph Zukor, David Selznick, Louis Mayer, David Sarnoff, Bill Paley, Walt Disney… presented with such a period of profound change and global market expansion, would they have declared war on the writers of all people or blamed Apple of all companies for their problems, or would they be charging ahead and developing new businesses, new forms of entertainment, new markets, and new sources of revenue?
His point about this not being a contraction of business, but rather a market expansion, is a good one. Madonna has figured out that the money is in concert promotion, not CDs. For Movies/TV it’s in the experience. So how to monetize that? Believe it or not there are some good ideas out there. Perhaps they should start by calling Mark Cuban whose Landmark theater chain is making a go of it.
Tim Lee at Techdirt points out, like so many have, that this strike will be fertile breeding ground for independent producers.
If there ends up being a lengthy writers’ strike (and especially if the actors and directors join the strike next year) it’s only going to create a content vacuum that will be filled by small independent producers who understand how to use digital technologies to produce and distribute content on a tight budget. Something similar happened during the last strike, in 1988, when networks reacted to the shortage of writers by launching unscripted shows like "Cops" and "America’s Funniest Home Videos," giving birth to the reality TV format that remains popular to this day. With products like Joost, YouTube, and Apple TV offering alternative distribution mechanisms for independent producers, a writer’s strike could have even more dramatic consequences this time around.
We don’t know what the ‘Reality TV’ creation of this strike will be. It might be web serials, thumbnail drive distribution systems, or bit torrent P2P networks on free wifi, but it will be something.
Duncan Riley on Techcrunch drives home the point on why it is so important for writers to make a stand now.
The strike poses an interesting challenge for television at a time where internet usage has surpassed TV viewing time in most homes. Users are already choosing online entertainment over TV, how many more will switch off their televisions when their favorite shows stop going to air? These eyeballs present a real opportunity for online content creators at all levels; from the VC funded video startups through to the DIY part timers. The trends in viewer numbers have all been headed online to this point, this strike could well accelerate this trend, particularly if it lasts over the long term. It will be a chance for millions online to bloom.
I predict that as soon as the above starts happening, studios will wake up and realize that while the world will always need writers (and producers), they won’t need studios. Technology has erased the costs of distribution, it is already driven down the costs of production significantly, actors costs are dropping too (machinima anyone?). When the three lines meet, say good-night to movie and television studios. There is still a place in the future for a studio system, but they have to choose now to adapt and work together with the community to make changes now that will ensure their future.
For Disney fans, I’m not saying we should rest easy. But of all the studio chiefs, Walt Disney Company CEO Robert Iger has the best understanding of current technologies and where they’re leading. So that is a little comfort.
For great in-depth coverage of the strike be sure to visit Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood Daily.