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.