Scaring Away the Audience

What always amazes me when an industry finds itself in the midst of a strike is that usually one side is so blinded to reality; they allow the strike to happen when it could be avoided with rational thought. In baseball, the owners usually are out to crush the union and are so ham-fisted about it they lose every time. That we avoided a strike this last time convinces me there’s hope for us all.

The Producers don’t want to give up on their profits or profits-to-come so never really bargained in good faith with the Writers Guild and now we’re in a strike that will affect our choices for entertainment for the foreseeable future. In six or eight months we’ll do this all over again when the Producers have to face the Directors Guild and Screen Actors Guild.

It’s all over sharing profit and frankly, that’s what it’s there for, to share with those who actually produced the material. That includes everyone from the stagehands up through to the studios and networks that invested in the project. What we’re dealing with now is a situation where fear has overtaken common sense.

The last contract was before the advent of myriad delivery systems that quite frankly have already changed the way audiences watch their shows. In addition to the actual initial broadcast, we can choose to watch shows via DVR, On Demand, streaming at a website or pay to download it to our device of choice. It’s all happening very, very quickly and in some cases the Producers are right, they don’t know the full financial ramifications of what this all means. Yet, rather than be proactive, cutting everyone in on the action or putting the promise of sharing in writing, they’d rather stick their heads in the sand and pretend the money isn’t there.

Trust me, it’s there. Significant revenue is being earned from iTunes downloads or the advertising that surrounds the network streams. And no doubt, there will be more to come as we find new ways to deliver filmed entertainment. The entire compensation formula needs to be rewritten for everyone so no one is left out and there’s less to grumble about. The Producers tried to do away with residuals altogether but what they proposed didn’t appeal to the Writers Guild. The WGA came out with taking a demand off the table and the Producers, rather than negotiate, walked away.

The strike is now several days old and the networks are already scaling back plans, canceling and rescheduling shows. Has anyone gone back to the bargaining table? Nope.

And with every passing day, the day the screens go dark comes a little closer. While the networks are finding new delivery systems, they still need people to watch. Alienating the audiences, keeping them from the next season of Lost let alone the next episode of The Office isn’t going to make people sit and wait in the dark. Instead, they will find offerings on other channels or in other forms of entertainment. Look for stories discussing increased use of entertainment such as World of Warcraft or Second Life and check to see how subscriptions to Netflix have increased. We’ll find some other way to remain amused.

On the first day of the strike, a list I’m on already began sharing recommended books to help keep us occupied. Books – fiction and non-fiction – never go out of style and never strike. (My recommendation was Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott, a look at Chicago’s most famous house of prostitution and a delightful read.)

One comment

  • It truly is amazing. At the heart of this all is the conglomerates’ fear that more and more people are moving away from traditionally broadcast TV. You’d think the last thing they’d want to do is give more people more reason to stop watching TV.