a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Future is Now

So I've been fighting some sort of severe cold/flu thing the past 4 days, and I haven't been able to get back out on the picket lines. Which I really wanted to do (and which I will do in the future).

But it has given me a lot of time to wander around the Internet, reading about the strike and the issues at hand.

There seems to be the thought floating around out there that somehow the writers have erred by going out too early. That though it is right to be concerned about getting a piece of the Internet pie, that it is too early to tell what kind of pie it is going to be.


Yeah, there are new technologies every year, and who knows what we'll be watching TV shows and movies on in the future.

But it boils down to this:

Either people will be paying to download movies and TV shows over the Internet -- and the writers deserve a fair percentage of that money -- or Big Media won't be charging to view content over the Internet, and instead will be making money off ads attached to it. Which the writers also deserve a piece of.

And both of these things are happening already. You can pay to download movies and TV shows now, but the problem is that AMPTP's (reluctant) highest offer for residuals on this is the same lousy .3% that writers get from DVD sales.

And TV shows are also available to view online for free, and many have unskippable commercials in them. But AMPTP views these (and other web content that TV writers wrote without being paid for) as "promotional", despite the fact that they are full-length episodes with paid ads in them.

A good current example is The Daily Show. This is a TV program that is too topical to be rerun on TV. But the show has a website rife with clips and episodes for the show -- and also rife with a lot of advertising. Which the writers get 0% of.

The real problem here dates back to the 1940s, when screenwriters gave up copywright ownership of their material; copywright is why songwriters and book authors always get a cut of any sales of their work.

To counteract this, the studios agreed to pay residuals. And now they are trying to roll it back.

20 years ago, the WGA unwisely agreed to the .3% home video rate, because it cost a lot to make home videos, and no one was sure what the future was. The rate was supposed to be revisited, and should have been, since DVDs are much cheaper to produce (and downloads are infinitely cheaper).

But AMPTP has no interest in revisiting that rate discussion.

Historically, the writers haven't fought hard enough in battles like this. But now, with the basic Internet issues here -- residuals on paid downloads, a cut of ad rates -- it's time to draw a line in the sand, for writers, directors and actors to get a fair cut of new media.

The future is now.


At 5:52 PM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

With a speech like that you should run for office, Scott. I'd vote for ya!

Hope you're feeling better.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

At 8:23 PM, Anonymous Joe Valdez said...

I've been doing the same thing you have, Scott, without the severe cold: researching what's really behind the writer's strike. I thought your article was one of the most concise I've read so far.

With a history of such poor foresight - giving up royalties in the '40s and then accepting .3% residuals on home video in the '80s - I would like your opinion of what you think writers can do to give themselves something approaching equity with this strike.

I see this as a huge opportunity to remake the industry, but have to wonder if writers tend to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to change.

At 8:28 PM, Blogger Chris said...

It's even simpler than that -- if the studios don't make money off of the internet, they won't owe royalties.

At 10:55 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

Good points. It's certainly fair for the writers to get a percentage of any download costs(and easier to figure out how much should be paid).

As for advertising, not sure how you'd break that down. Plus, I doubt they'll budge on allowing writers a part of the ad revenue. I think that's a lost cause.

The WGA should concentrate on getting a better percentage on DVD & Downloads.

At 8:40 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Pat -- I still think they need to set up something sturdy to cover future possibilities. Because if they can run TV shows on the Internet in their entirety and deem them promotional, and thus not have to pay the writers anything, that has the potential to grow into something that will roll back residuals forever.

Joe -- People keep floating ideas to remake the industry, but the bottom line is that, unlike publishing or music, this business takes a lot of money to get stuff off the ground, and like it or not the best model still has the writers/actors/directors working with Big Media to make everyone money.

The irony is that the Internet is really helping the writers' PR at this point, though it may also be adding to the acrimony that is driving the two sides apart.

AMPTP is obviously concerned about the PR though; witness their spin-heavy fullpage ad in the L.A. Times today.

At 9:25 AM, Blogger Trish said...

Right on. It's tough being far away in these moments. Thanks to all of you for speaking up and standing tall (sniffles and all). You are supported.

Now load up on vitamin C and get some rest, if possible.


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