“The Television Business We Knew is Essentially Over.”

One question continued to stew about in my thoughts throughout this week’s reading, TV on Strike: How Hollywood Went to War Over the Internet by Cynthia Littleton. Ten, twenty years down the road, will there be any money to be made for people in the arts? A broad question, yes, but it is a reality that seems to solidify more and more every day.

Some see the strike as the bookend on a golden age for television writers in Hollywood that began in the three-network era but could not survive the new media explosion. “It’s over,” says one of Hollywood’s most successful television writer-producers. “The television business as we knew it is essentially over. The strike accelerated what was already happening in the business by three to five years. It was the watershed moment that essentially marks the beginning of the end of the business. There is no longer a way to make money in series television (Littleton, 21).

As this quote sits unsettled in my mind, I’ve been thinking about all of the other aspects of the creative industry that with the emergence of technology are becoming more universally available. There is copyright regulation, various means of online streaming websites for a monthly fee, and iTunes music downloads. However, in reality, is there still an honor code in the online environment? Most internet users have heard of, if not utilized, sites like The Pirate Bay and other torrent file sharing systems, so what is really to stop them?

I’d like to think that musicians, writers, and artists get their fair share of the profits from their hard work. Unfortunately, there has been an imbalance in monetary distribution for decades, long before technology threw a wrench in the botched attempts for at least some financial gain. It is evident in the several strikes throughout the 1980s with the WGA. Three separate strikes left no gain whatsoever for the writers on strike. The longest strike since the 1988 160-day strike occurred in 2007, the central subject in Littleton’s reading.

The strike only lasted for 100 days, but cost the studios almost 500 million dollars in opportunity costs. Though considered more successful than the strikes in the 80s, opinions vary as to whether the 2007 Writer’s Strike was well worth the time and energy:

For fiscal year 2008, which bore the brunt of the strike losses, WGA West member earnings fell 15.4 percent, to $831.3 million, and the number of working writers dropped to 4,339.7 In 2009 total earn- ings rebounded 12 percent from 2008 to $931.9 million from 4,328 writers. Those gains were driven largely by TV writers, who generated a record $502.4 million in earnings, a 10 percent gain from 2008, from 3,094 writers. The growth reflects the swift expansion of original scripted programming on cable networks in recent years. Total TV writer employment remained lower than its peak years in 2000 (3,564) and 2001 (3,480) (Littleton, 238).

This whole event was one of the many pre-cursors to the heart of the issue: new media. Technological advancements continue to harm writers’ chances for monetary gain. With most tv fans finding their next new episode on sites like Primewire and Project Free TV, is anyone making money? With the artists behind the suits not making their fair share, are the suits even earning anymore?

They all saw see it coming:

“We had to take care of ourselves for the Internet. We had to know going into the future that if the Internet takes off we’ll have a mechanism in place to get an equitable amount of revenue, equal to what we’ve got in the past at least on a percentage basis. . . . Once we had that in hand, I knew there was no way we could go out to showrunners and screenwriters and say we need to stay on strike for more.”

The internet provides the opportunity for free speech in a free environment. Youtube and Vimeo offer an all-access pass to popular music, shows, and other video content that doesn’t cost us a cent. The television industry has already begun brainstorming ways to instigate revenue in this new and unfamiliar territory. Hopefully, they will find success, but that they will have the good sense to put the money where it belongs – in the hands of the creators.

Littleton, Cynthia. TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 2013. Print.

Images from Creative Commons.

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