The Writers Strike of 2007-09: Is The Digital Revolution the Only Solution?

THE STRIKE – (Strikes Suck):

The 2007-09 writers strike involving the WGAE and WGAW was a movement to gain better conditions for Hollywood screen and TV writers.  While I understand the desire and purpose for striking, and while writers and other no collar workers shouldn’t be exploited, I’ve always been confused as to why workers strike.  When you strike you don’t get paid at all, and these people picketing spent weeks and months out on the streets standing up for a hope of better conditions.

Striking film and television writers, from left, Karen Gist, Michele Marburger, Regina Hicks, Elaine Aronson and Jeanette Collins picket outside CBS Radford Studios, Jan. 7, 2008, in the Studio City section of Los Angeles. As Hollywood's striking scribes ventured out to their picket lines over the last two months, it's been plain to see that female writers are outnumbered by their male colleagues. (AP Photo/Ric Francis)

While it’s a completely different subject, it’s especially ironic when you look at another large scale strike or movement in America which was the occupy wall street.  The protestors were protesting against the distribution of wealth in America by not working.  But while the writers were striking, they weren’t the only ones taking a financial setback.  From NPR they reported the strike cost L.A.’s economy $1.5 billion while other sources reported $380 Million (UCLA School of Management) and an economist Jack Kyser set it at $2.1 billion.  (Source)  Essentially there were a variety of estimates, but regardless, a large sum of money was lost as a result.  There’s also an additional opportunity cost which was missed out on while virtually no content was being created, I’m not sure if that was factored in or not.

Hundreds of TV episodes were pushed back or even cancelled – my favorite example is 24.  Conversely, some TV shows like The Price Is Right benefited because everything was cheaper to produce, and they have virtually no writing involved.  While the whole situation is horrible, the rallying only really generated short term change, and while it’s great to see all the writers (new and retired, and everyone in-between) at the end of the day the problem still exists almost 8 years later.  Maybe I’m just a dissenter, and I should note that I’m not a writer so I don’t completely connect, but it seems like more of the same in the exploitation of creative class workers.  At the end of the day as individuals (even 12,000 of us) can create small scale temporary change, but there’s really not much impact being made.  The top 1% (big 4) still controls so much and it takes those people to create legitimate long term change.

THE BOOK (TV On Strike)

The book TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet (Television and Popular Culture) by Cynthia Littleton puts a spotlight on the strike from a personal perspective since she was with the others picketing.  While the book was very dense it was also very insightful.  The book put a spotlight on how new-media is reshaping the traditional business model (sound familiar?) from the way we are used to creating and consuming content.  Littleton without a doubt is smart and well informed and is a great reporter in a sense, and some of her writing is incredible.


Like I said her writing at points was great, and I’ll get in to why I didn’t like it so much later, but she gives endless amounts of information around the strikes.  Littleton gives a very detailed overview of the strike, and how it affected everyone.  Like I mentioned earlier, Littleton spent time walking with the other picketers, documenting first hand what the environment was like and the progress that they made.  She also gave a variety of interviews with her fellow picketers, providing a variety of perspectives on the issue.  Unfortunately some of the higher up members of the very companies they were picketing refused to be interviewed (no surprise).


First and foremost, it was too dense, and read too much like a historical textbook.  She also was very thorough, at some points too thorough.  The book read too much like a text book for my appeal, and I wish the reports would have been given in a more narrative and creative form.  I also found myself doing most of my research regarding the background of the strikes, since not much was discussed especially in terms of the labor movement and other historical context.  I almost found a more diverse and more comprehensible report of the events from researching online.


So enough about my critique of the author, the real question that her piece made me contemplate was the digital revolution’s impact on this situation.  This argument was the most captivating one by Littleton, and was addressed early on, 1368461941714.cached“The digital revolution promises to be a far greater transformative force for the pillars of the national television business—ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox—than even the competitive threat from the rise of cable programming in the 1980s and ’90s. Nor are cable- and satellite-delivered channels immune to the disruptions caused by the exponential growth of video distribution options.  In the new media paradigm, television programming that was once exclusive to a single licensor is slowly but surely becoming a commodity—a high-end item, for sure, but still something that can be obtained through any number of outlets, authorized and illegal.”(Pg 1).  I wrote a post earlier this year about Netflix and HBO Go making better shows than cable networks such as ABC, Fox etc. which seems relevant to the topic. (See Post) So is Netflix or HBO or HULU enough of a revolutionary option to create legitimate change that these writers are searching for? I’d be interested to see the difference between job quality of full-time Hollywood writer and a Netflix full time writer.  It seems like they’re a pretty moral company from what I’ve researched, and they seem to distribute power more evenly than the power conglomerates, while making absurd amounts of money.

It seems like the whole new media paradigm is changing the power structure which is awesome because it’s a horrible system, but for advertisers and other areas such as sports, these big companies dominate the market.  nfl-GP-article-headSports packages like NFL Game Pass and NBA League Pass are far more expensive than a regular cable/internet package.  None the less as Littleton discusses, the cable networks still are the big leaguers and they can easily draw in millions of viewers, I think sports is the best example of this although it does relate to regular TV programs.  The big gap with the new media push is the timing of watching shows.  Littleton uses Family Guy as an example, nba-league-passwhere if you have cable you can view live or set a DVR and watch whenever.  Otherwise you can go to iTunes for $2 and watch it, or buy the season later for $45.  The convenience and the ability to watch shows live is something these new media providers still need to figure out.  But again there’s an opportunity there, because shows like South Park for example posts their episodes to their website pretty recently after their airing.


Final Thought: Strikes Suck – They’re inconvenient and disrupt daily life, and create short term change but never genuinely change anything.

*** Update ***

Today an article surfaced about Comcast and how they deal with Netflix & Net Neutrality.  For those who don’t know, Comcast released a 300GB Data cap.  This ties into what I’m talking about more-so with cable cutters, but also adds to the competition that Netflix brings against Comcast and other major networks.  See the article below.

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