TV on Strike

Littleton’s TV on Strike, highlights not only the battle between writers and studios, but of the entertainment business’s lag behind the technology through which consumers are using as exhibition mediums and as her subtitle states, “Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet.” Littleton discusses the Internet in a specific light, as something incomprehensible to these writers and even to the business tactics of the large networks. It seems that no one really knows how to handle the distribution on the Internet and advances are being made too quickly for the politics of residuals to catch up and even the writers themselves. The consumers have a better understanding of the technology than the networks. “The spread of digital technologies and distribution platforms, broadband access, and radical behavioral shifts among younger consumers are reshaping–some may say irrevocably undermining– the business foundation of network television” (1). It is up for the networks to catch up and to make the necessary adjustments to make sure the writers profit off of what they profit off of on the Internet. This didn’t happen and hence, the strike.

Showrunners and writers who spent most of their days holed up in writers rooms generally did not have time to think about much else beyond delivering next week’s episode on time. And because so many screenwriters work in solitary conditions, Verrone’s big-picture discussion of the industry, complete with Venn diagrams, was the first time many writers paused to consider the long-term impact of iTunes, YouTube, et al.(46)

The WGA and Verrone’s efforts to bring the writers together was an effort because of the nature of the job, the hours and the singular focus of having a show ready in time. Littleton states that the writers were also left in the dark about the technology until Verrone was able to educate them, and to provoke them to join forces together and protect their property.

The media conglomerates clearly reign in the entertainment business and from this and our previous reading aim at expanding and owning more and more, limiting any elbow room for any competition from anybody. “Macroeconomic shifts in Hollywood and the consolidation of media ownership during the past twenty years have made it next to impossible for independent producers, let alone individual writer-producers, to maintain absolute ownership of their product” (xviii). This combined with the introduction of the Internet, and not getting paid for ‘promos’ on the web adds more to the argument of the writers. Ownership is a huge issue in this debate because it is the creators who were getting the short end of the stick when it came to getting the money. The writers go to the networks so they have someone to support and produce their work. However, there is an outlet on the Internet to avoid this step completely and many writers took advantage of the technology and new media.

Hollywood Unplugged: The Birth of Strike.TV from Motion Picture Anthropology on Vimeo.

Although, not wildly successful, Strike.TV originated as a product of the strike itself, the statement being that the writers were the producers and able to exhibit their work through a medium under their own control. It is impressive to see these older writers appreciative of the changing ways in production the Internet provides, and the ability to finally have full control over your product. While the strike was about business and money, it was also about ownership and led writers to seek new outlets and create their own content online.

Peter Hyoguchi, the co-Founder and Cheif Executive Officer writes in a blog entry on the site:

Strike.TV represents the opportunity for creators in Hollywood, many of whom are insanely talented, to tell their stories totally unchanged and unaltered. Their vision exactly realized for the audience. A first in Hollywood history. And because they don’t have to make back X amount to pay the huge costs the networks and studios need to cover their vast overhead, these shows can be as odd-ball, strange and as niche as they want to be. They don’t have to make millions of dollars. They don’t have to appeal to Everyone. A smaller audience who really digs it is enough to support the show. And the coolest thing of all, Strike.TV’s shows are totally free. No cable bill. No movie ticket. No video rental charge.

Low production costs can help writers make content for audiences with no pressure in making money. This offers freedom, but not the economic comfort of belonging to WGA, and writing for a network. However Hyoguchi predicts:

We now are standing on ground zero of the Golden Age of the Internet.  We are pre-Howdy Doody. And of course there will be a hit Internet show. And that show will be a Global phenomenon. A new economy will be created around original web shows. There will be modest niche hits and out-of-the-ballpark mega-hit shows. They’re all coming. And who knows, you might be watching them on Strike.TV.

This post was written in 2008, and since then there have been successful webisode series, none on the level of network television, but certainly widely successful with consistent viewership. However, network shows themselves are being watched through the Internet more and more, and I would completely agree it is the “Golden Age of the Internet,”– it just depends on how one masters the tools given.

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Comments

  1. Strike.TV offers an interesting example of the way the Internet has lowered some longstanding barriers to entry that have historically limited the access creative workers have to potential audiences. In this particular case, the writers participating in Strike.TV seem to have embraced the participatory nature of Web 2.0 culture once the more top-down paradigm in which they previously worked stopped working for them.

    As telecoms become key stakeholders in the creative industries, one wonders if consumers might be blocked from sites like Strike.TV in the event of future labor disputes that AMPTP members perceive as threats to their bottom line. For instance, last month, the D.C. District Court of Appeals ruled against the FCC in a suit brought by Comcast; the ruling essentially augured the end of net neutrality as we know it.

    That’s scary enough on its own, but with Comcast’s planned acquisition of Time-Warner, the line separating content producers from content providers is becoming increasingly indiscernible.

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