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Hollywood Strike: Good for Online Video, Bad for UGC?

In an apparent attempt to earn even less money than they do now, Hollywood writers, long at loggerheads with studio execs over contract terms, might start jumping into the notoriously fickle online media marketplace once their contract terms expire. Hello frying pan. Meet the fire.

Screenwriters sat down with studio executives on Monday for contract talks centered around industry proposals to revamp the decades-old system by which television and film writers are paid extra when their work is released into reruns or onto DVDs. Currently writers aren’t paid for work that appears online or on wireless platforms. The contract for the 12,000+ members of the Writers Guild of America ends October 31. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) is set to make a new proposal next week.

“The only place where a strike is good is the interactive business,” said Fox Interactive president Ross Levinsohn at an event covered by Variety. “The ability to create and distribute programming across the Internet and mobile is as simple as point-and-shoot.”

So a strike would be a good thing for online video consumers, yes? Sure, but it’s no big surprise, because the shift of professionals to online media is already happening.

Just take a look at some of the news recently: Sony transitions Grouper into “prosumer” Crackle; 60 Frames Entertainment launches with the former digital chief of UTA, Brett Weinstein; Will Ferrell launches FunnyorDie; a group of Hollywood directors launches Trailers from Hell; R.J. Cutler is about to release the Facebook Diaries; Vuguru is about to launch a new Prom Queen series. The professionals are already here, folks. Hollywood is gradually acceding to the demands of an online world. So in a way, these contract problems could be just what Hollywood needs, i.e., to become constant media.

Or, to look at it from another angle, the movement of professional talent into the online space may also sound the death knell for user-generated content. For a long time a lot of observers have considered UGC to be the next Hollywood. But the truth is that most UGC is communication, not entertainment — friends making clips for their friends. These types of vids will always be prominent and they will always compete for our attention. But as more professional talent comes online, we’ll find ourselves watching more and more professionally-created vids. We’re all suckers for a good story nicely done.

The lesson for Hollywood is simple: Get off your duff and help your writers get paid for online work. Otherwise your writers will get themselves paid for their online work. Good for us and good for them, but sucks for you.

See also: the Professionalization of Internet TV.

One Response to “Hollywood Strike: Good for Online Video, Bad for UGC?”

  1. prodco

    The Unions are somewhat akin to DRM. They are seeking to control and grab revenue where little or non-exist.

    If the Unions were smart (which they aren’t), they would find methods to encourage their membership to be working within the internet television space now, even though the economics aren’t there yet. They’d create a flat fee per episode if “first window” was internet broadcast and leave it up to each writer to do some equity/profit deal on their own (plus, writers could control spin-offs, sequels, etc. if a show moved to Broadcast and those minimums would apply). And, the Minimum for an episode would be in the $500 range.

    Seems like the highest budget internet television series (i.e. professional content) are IN THE MOTHERHOOD, which looks to be over $10K/episode, alamoheightsSA was in the $5-10K range, and PROMQUEEN was around $2K (albeit for :90 seconds). I doubt the writers on any of those shows received more than $500/episode? Would be interesting to find out?

    But, a WGA writer (or, the Union) is going to be looking for a bare minimum of what? $1-3K per episode for something under :10 minutes. Maybe more. Plus, they want residuals that are impossible to calculate based on viewership (can only be revenue/profit based).

    There will be a Strike. And, akin to 1988, the world will change. The writers will lose (the last Strike created the onset of “reality” television and put many writers out of business). This strike may be the Unions shooting themselves in both feet, and knees.

    Best suggestion is: Make a WGA writer an Executive Producer on your show. Provide them with Fees, plus equity. Screw the Unions, unless they are willing to work within the reality of the business (a 5% of Budget, flat, would suffice).