WGA, Google and the futulity of playing futurist

Earlier this week I posted on the WGA strike in a vain attempt to make a funny, topical observation, that being that the striking writers were like Guy Fawkes and his attempt to blow up Parliament. Now it wasn’t the perfect analogy, but I thought I had a good angle: the internet is a powder-keg and neither side was using it the right way or seeing it’s potential. Good point, but not germane to the topic at hand, as Will thoroughly documents.

The question at hand, currently, for the WGA and for the rest of the entertainment industry is compensation and residuals. SAG, AFTRA and the other unions seem to be getting a fair(er) shake, while the writers get short shrift. I didn’t say that enough, but I’m saying it now.

My other point, also lede-buried in my hasty, work-written blog post, was that the internet was an equalizer where talent could route around the networks oligopoly. Again, Will sets the record straight because, despite the growth of YouTube and declining ratings for the big broadcast nets, making a living via TV show or a Movie is still a better risk than putting your show/film on the internet. Point taken, agreed upon and accepted.

But I just can’t stop thinking about the future. Sure, WGA should get their 8 cents for every DVD and (hopefully) a percentage and not a dollar amount for each stream, play and download, but what happens when cable and satellite (either the networks themselves or the MSOs) aren’t the main gatekeeper, the main distributor, of content. What happens, as I posited the very next day, when Google controls the internet AND set-top experience? How is the internet going to fundamentally change distribution and how will that affect all talent from writers and actors to directors and producers? And what role does a “network” or other financing/broadcasting agency have in that kind of world?

I don’t claim to have even a quarter of the answers, but I feel like that’s the question I’m being led to explore. Sure, this model is good enough for now and the WGA should get theirs, but what happens tomorrow?

Drew asked this great follow-up in the comments to my original post:

Something I’ve been thinking about after reading your post: if television continues down this path and becomes an entirely on-demand experience, what would the long-term effects be on development of new content? I’m not talking about user generated, You-Tube style content, but the more heavily financed and professionally managed development. Given the costs typically associated with developing a new television show (non-reality genre) in the current model, would we see networks even less willing to take chances with their new content? Also, in the current format many new shoes are positioned in time slots that will bring in carry-over viewers in order to jump start ratings. On-demand means less opportunity to expose new programs to a pre-existing audience.

I honestly have no idea, but I know we’re at the precipice of more change in this space. Remember, it was only a few years ago that TiVo/DVR was not really a threat because so few folks had them, now Nielsen has re-worked their metrics system to account for all the viewing that happens on-demand or time-shifted, most of the time without folks watching the commercials that ultimately pay for the content.

And that’s an entirely other point (third one, I think): advertisers and marketers shedding the need to “advertise” in a traditional sense and instead creating engrossing content of their own and going direct to consumers. I glossed over this issue as well.

So, yeah, my blogging this week sucked because I have too many ideas and not enough time to articulate them clearly. Or too many five-dollar words and run-on sentences I’d rather use instead of being clear.

To sum up (too late):

  1. WGA writers being screwed; support them as they try to get their due
  2. Internet and developments in distribution (TiVo/IPTV) will redistribute the balance of power from network/operator to viewer/creator
  3. Marketers/advertisers don’t need the reach of content when they can reach consumers with their own content

Phew! Happy Friday!

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