Online Television Would Be Better If It Were Better… and The Writers Strike

8 02 2008

An article in yesterday’s Online Media Daily talks about a recent Jupiter Research study that says that:

ONLY 10% OF ADULT ONLINE consumers have watched full-length TV episodes online in the last year, but a bigger audience awaits if TV producers and technology players can deliver a better experience.

Now, I can’t say that this falls into the category of “Wow, I never would have suspected THAT!” In fact, also falling into that category, is a later paragraph which says that:

One-third of people surveyed by Jupiter said being able to watch any show episode online for free was a key factor in their desire to watch TV online.

Hell, I might even watch “Lipstick Jungle” if it were free. [Oh, wait a minute, it is free on broadcast television, and the show was an embarrassing combination of bad acting, obvious plot and cheesy production values. Maybe I wouldn’t watch it in any case!]

The networks have completely backed themselves into a corner now. No one really wants to pay to watch their content. The fact that we haven’t been paying for it for years, except in pay cable, combine with the low quality of most of the shows has created a “must not see TV” head. In other words, what brings people to see a show isn’t its high quality, but a combination of its entertainment level and, even more so, the fact that the networks are giving it away. I’d be interested in how many people would actually watch “Kid Nation” if they had to pay for it.

This leaves them in a bind, since last time I looked they weren’t interested in losing their stockholders’ money. They will continue to have to pay someone to sponsor their content and to try and keep their costs down. Luckily for them, they have a lot of people whose job it is to do nothing but that. they’re fast working on how to make money on the Web, in the convergence space, in mobile (check out this article about how ad agencies are ranking up the mobile advertising behemoth)

Enter the WGA strike. (and all of the other union actions that are in the air this year)

I have to tell you that I am prejudiced when it comes to the strike. As a long time union member (albeit the IATSE) I am hugely in favor of allowing someone to represent a lot of me, rather than have me go up against every producer, every time I want to sign on to do a film. I don’t want to have to explain to someone each time they ask me to work around the clock that this is an imposition on my life that they need to pay extra for. Thank God I have a labor union, and an established contract that they’ve negotiated, to do all of that odious work for me.

But if everyone is going to want to get their content for free, how is it going to get paid for? How is it monetized, to use the cool expression of 2000.

And, once they do that, how much of it will they have to share?

Right now, they’ve been paying content creators a salary and a bump, if what they create helps bring in more money. So, actors, writers, directors all get a salary and residuals when the work they were contracted to do, is reused and generates more money for the owners of the copyright. Editors, cinematographers, art directors, etc. don’t get a residual directly, but have it deposited into our health plan. It’s the closest any of us will ever get to a bonus.

So, as traditional television goes away, what happens to that residual money. Well, to hear the studios talk about it, it just goes away, because no one wants to pay for their content on the web. But as more and more people start to get more and more of their content online (as discussed in the article I first mentioned), the way in which studios can make money from its presence on the web will get greater and greater. Will any of that money be used to make up the content creators’ shortfall, caused by the people not getting their shows on a traditional television?

According to the AMPTP — well, no, not really. We don’t know how to make money off of that yet. (yeah, sure; that’s why your stockholders are all suing you.) But, when we do, let’s talk.

Viewers are savvier than that (they’re waiting until they can have a television set experience on their computers before jumping over, according Jupiter Research). WHy should writers?

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