Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Duff: Striking writers are fighting for their piece of the Internet pie

Duff: Striking writers are fighting for their piece of the Internet pie

By the time you read this, the Hollywood writer’s strike will be three weeks old. And at the risk of sounding biased, this looks to be the most clear cut case of good vs. evil since David beaned Goliath.

Network execs sound particularly arrogant this time because they think they’ve figured out how to produce television without writers.

They think they can keep us distracted with game shows and reality TV while they work through their cache of scripted programs.

But “Heroes” fans won’t wait forever, and reality shows are old news. I’ll confess to being a fan of old-time game shows, but the modern variety are like cotton candy dunked in glitter.

There’s no substance here. Modern viewers need stories – characters, dialog and plots we can sink our teeth into. Look at what HBO has done for primetime TV.

Shows like “Rome,” “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under” have carved out an audience and raised standards for free and pay TV alike. That’s the kind of entertainment people are hungry for – the kind of quality that comes from strong writing.

So what does all this have to do with the Internet? Everything. The writers want a flat 2.5 percent cut of new media revenue, and the execs are talking out both sides of their mouths as they try to deny it.

In one speech, Viacom chief Sumner Redstone brags about the revenue potential inherent in “convergent advertising deals” while in another he says new media “won’t yield enough revenue to pay writers for at least the next five or six decades of my life.”

The writers say networks are using the new medium as an excuse to cut their residual rate, just like they did when home video was new.

The writers took a serious pay cut to help the fledgling home video market and they never got it back. The Writer’s Guild pushed for a bigger cut of DVD revenue this time but took it off the table in the last round of negotiations before the strike.

Don’t let the networks fool you. New media is about to explode as a platform and a revenue source. Streaming video of primetime shows is viable, practical and paid for.

NBC and HBO are poised to launch a new service called Hulu, a Web site that will feature, not just current shows, but all your old favorites, ad-supported and in high quality.

It’s not fully implemented yet, but you can preview the service at video.aol.com.

The writers aren’t striking over some abstract prediction of the future. The Internet is about to change the way you watch TV, and writers are fighting for their piece of the pie.

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Written by Michael B. Duff

November 23, 2007 at 13:47

Posted in Columns, TV

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