Blog Post

Writers' Strike: An Inflection Point for Online Video?

Venture capitalists are always looking for inflection points in a market – events that turn a market up or down dramatically. In our firm we have been having an “active discussion” as to whether or not the writers’ strike in Hollywood is the inflection point that will drive mainstream America off their couches and onto their computers for new video content.

Just to be clear, I am not referring to YouTube clips or previously aired network television shows online, but something that Mom and Dad would want to sit on the couch and watch for an hour. At Panorama Capital, we are all believers in using the Internet for cost-effective video distribution and have invested in this space, but we’re still waiting for the market to really rival that of traditional television.

For the demographics that currently do not spend more time in front of the computer than in front of the television, will the hangover from the strike drive them to watch new content on the Internet? Will it deliver a Nielsen ratings point for some Internet video shows? What shows would you recommend to your parents to watch to get them to move away from the television?

40 Responses to “Writers' Strike: An Inflection Point for Online Video?”

  1. I like how Jon Smirl refered to ‘appointment television.’ The concept of making an appointment to watch a television program is absolutely archaic. And while DVR/TIVO/On Demand are all wonderful products for consumers, they don’t truly benefit the cable companies, especially in terms of advertising dollars. is running a piece on the strike and one of the blog’s they have culled from poses the question “How long before cable companies become nothing more than ISPs?” It is only a matter of time before the technology and the content are up to par with HDTV and cable. While it seems Apple is on the right track with Apple TV, I’m wondering how long it will take to catch on, if it will at all. Regardless, the integration of Wi-Fi with HD quality and content driven television is bound to happen in the future. The only real question is, what will the consumer have to pay for it?

    The Issue |

  2. Tiran Kiremidjian

    The questions and posts on this blog are really good. I have incubated and launched TV stations around the world (helping start the No. 1 channels in Czech Republic and in Taiwan) and have learned a few lessons about the business. The most important is to recognize the very complex ecosystem of the video business — whether it’s online or on-air.

    When I looked at overseas markets for launching a new TV station, I found I needed to scrutinize the whole ecosytem of the video business, which runs something like this:

    content creation ==> distribution to audience ==> effective marketing to audience ==> monetization (advertising or subscriptions)

    Evaluating a potential TV venture in these four steps was really crucial, and I think it’s the same for the online video now. Let me briefly go through each step that I used as an evaluation tool, and it will be more clear.

    Content Creation. Was there a critical mass of content that I could get my hands on (rights to) that would draw an interesting audience in size and quality (demographics) to make a venture possible. Usually, existing media sops up all potential talent (for new productions) and libraries (existing content) so there’s literally nothing for new players.

    Distribution. If there is content, can I transmit it (somehow) to my intended audience? My business was broadcast, so was there a frequency I could get use of? Was there cable in the country, or a satellite platform widely in use?

    Effective Marketing. If there is, can I get my intended audience to notice? If a cable or satellite platform exists and broadcasts 100 channels, can I somehow get my audience to notice my single new channel? Usually, this is ENORMOUSLY difficult. And almost always requires a PREPONDERANCE of QUALITY programming.

    Monetization. Even if you get to this point, meaning that you found good content, the means to distribute it, get the audience to notice you and watch you (which means you did step one effectively), you still need to monetize the audience you’ve achieved, and sometimes (often) there are reasons you won’t be able to do this. The most common reason is that advertisers demand a certain critical mass, which means you not only have to successfully launch, but you need to launch big. Which means each step (content, distribution, marketing) must be done big — which greatly increases the cost (investment). The second reason is simply institutional inertia. yes, you’re getting a decent audience but ad agency X has been sending Y million in advertising to channel z, and that’s difficult to stop too. In my opinion (perhaps many others’ too) this was one of the chief causes of the first internet bust. Advertising just didn’t keep up with the audience as it shifted to the new medium so fast. it took about 5 years, roughly. If an online video business does emerge (of comparable size to the current TV business), you’ll need to think how the advertising paid to existing networks and subscriptions paid to cable and satellite companies would be switched. It’s tougher than anyone thinks.

    So you can see why successful media outlets (TV stations, channels, etc.) are so valuable. There are a lot of forces keeping them in place, and new entrants are VERY difficult to get off the ground.

    That all being said, does the writers’ strike afford the opportunity to create a new paradigm (so to speak, I hate that word) in the video viewing business. I originally said no, but, actually, it just might. I’ll describe how it could in my next post.

    But it won’t be for the faint of heart. You’ll have to be as brave as the media entrepreneur Rupert Murdoch — who has done all this time and time again.

  3. Tiran Kiremidjian

    No. The writers’ strike is not an inflection point for critical mass migration of viewers from the TV set to the computer. The strike would need to last multiple years, and most importantly, all those writers who are not on the picket line would need to start writing FOR internet TV. Then the content would appear on that platform and create the switch. As impressive as the volume (and at times the quality) of video now appearing on the web, it’s a tiny fraction of what’s shown on the tube.

    If you’re looking for the next model for TV, you might want to look at overseas markets. In some of these markets, notably Korea and Taiwan, the media industry is less entrenched with multiple and conflicting interests, and so new technology is more easily adopted and better models launched.

    Just as Asia and Europe have more advanced mobile systems, I believe they are more likely to incubate the model that replaces our current TV model.

  4. The current division between internet video and TV is bothering all of us. For this reason I sat down and wrote how I would like it to be here:
    Future device connectivity is going to change everything but we will always have the backup to watch things on DVD like it happens with CDs. We like MP3s and generally music on HD or flash but never say no to a good CD from our old collection :-)
    As for news I think the web has overtaken TV in this ages ago, I would never go back to consistently wasting my time… Thanks to Allan for the great post.

  5. @Randall – I am proactive and can see the infrastructure changes needed for Internet video, but I’m still waiting for the tectonic shift in the consumer mindset. You’re right that the strike is educating people. And thanks for being a customer of Grid :)

    @Alan – no worries on mis-spelling my name, I do it too :) Thanks for the contact info and good luck with your talent search!

    @Jon – thanks for the link.

    @joe – that link does not work.

    @Eric – thanks for the links. And, yes, I am waiting to see when 42 minutes of content (an hour long show) really uses the Internet as a viable distribution channel to reach a million viewers. I’m hoping that format is not conducive to 18 minutes of commercials…

    @Rob Long – Thanks for the great insights. Good luck on the strike, I wish you well.

    @Adam – thanks for the great comments. Please bring us some unique content from your side of the globe!

  6. Allan,

    No and Yes is the short answer.

    NO: Our parents, the babyboomers are too entrenched in the couch experience and in content being scheduled and delivered. We’re currently faced with a mass of content online with no discernible way of selecting the best, nor the most relevant to our needs. It’s this problem or growing pain that will keep them glued to the sofa and the remote. This is a generation reared on an editorial and trusted voice, the TV Guide of yesteryear or the weekly papers with their ‘Top Picks’ of the day’s viewing, whilst Gen XYZ (not sure what we’re calling ourselves now) rely on collective aggregation and filtering, on peer recommendations.

    YES: It’s youth we should be focusing on, web soaps like LG15 and it’s brood are merely the first iteration of a new form of entertainment

    I worked as Creative Director of Europe’s largest talent agency for 10 years and have seen the incumbent industry battle and fail to understand the web savvy, they are more interested in preserving the status quo and we’re seeing only reluctant steps by the majors to address this.

    What we need is content and content creators, if anything we can hope that some studio writers will find a new creative outlet in online programming. Nurture them and we’ll see a seismic shift.


  7. Big question!

    I’m a writer — currently on strike, and incredibly ambivalent about it — and I’m not sure I’d call this an inflection point, because I think that the entertainment business is always in some kind of slow-rolling revolution. But I don’t know anyone in the entertainment business — and I’ve been working as a writer and producer for a long time — who doesn’t anticipate huge disruption in the next few years. That said, I don’t know many people in the entertainment business who are afraid of this, either. Things are going to get shaken up, sure; but when things shake up, a lot of money and opportunity shakes loose, too. And Hollywood is made up, essentially, of a lot of one-man corporations. Put it this way: Hollywood is a great place for individuals to get rich; I’m not so sure it’s so hot for shareholders.

    So, can I suggest a strategy? In Hollywood, currently, failure costs a lot of money. An unsold 1/2 hour pilot costs about $2 million; a failed 1/2 hour series costs about 6x that. And features, boy — it costs a lot of money to find out that the public doesn’t want to see your movie!

    The web, among other things, radically lowers the cost of finding out whether what you’ve got on your hands is a failure or a potential hit. And so any strategy should lever off of that basic advantage.

    Try everything. Remind yourself that hits are impossible to engineer, or reverse engineer. We don’t know — we’ll never know — in advance what the audience (whatever the demographic) wants to watch, wants to get obsessed by, will set up fan sites for, will pay premiums for, will wait in the rain for. The web, though, can give us a better sense, and for a lot less money, whether or not a project is worth pursuing. So, try everything. If rolls of the dice are cheap, for God’s sake, roll the dice! That’s the great capital advantage the web has over Old Media — the very people (like me) who are striking right now demanding guaranteed minimum payments from big studios (and those come after the huge fees our agents and lawyers negotiate for us) will work for free on the web.

    I don’t know about inflection points, but I know a terrific arbs opportunity when I see one!

    I talk a lot about this on my blog,, and I’m even launching a crowdsourced animated show venture, at Because, you know, try everything…

  8. Allan Leinwand

    @Alec – great insights. Let’s hop that al of us in this space can have a share of this very large market.

    @Frank – thanks for the links. Some interesting content there!

    @5tacos – you’re right, I’m still waiting to point my Mom to something that she wants every week on the Internet in the same ways she watches “Desperate Housewives”.

    @cosmos1980 – interesting take. The big networks seem to be using Internet video to supplant DVRs. Watching old shows on their websites have ads that you can’t skip and allows them to monetize their content without paying distribution fees (although they do have to pay for the bytes delivered).

    @Matt – good point about the game consoles. I’m still waiting to see if that really happens, but clearly the technology is there.

  9. Is the writers’ strike in Hollywood the inflection point that will drive mainstream America off their couches and onto their computers for new video content?

    It depends what the content is. That’s the bottom line.

    I think it’s dangerous to view what is happening as a tipping point from one thing to another thing. What’s really happening, let’s say for TV in particular, is it’s going from one thing to everything. Content is becoming disassociated from it’s delivery technology.

    I don’t think the audience is going to “move” from their TV’s to their computers. The CONTENT is going to move and split off in all directions. People will discover it based on what the content is (it’s quality and their interest in the subject) and if it makes sense in their present situation (in their living room relaxing, commuting to work on the train, in the office at their computer, etc.)

    So to come back to the point I think, yes, the writer’s strike is a major tipping point because it focuses the mainstream on the changes in media. As far as getting people to get up off their couch and move to another room? No. I think the content provider has to deliver the show to where the people are.

    You specifically mentioned an hour long show. I’m assuming you mean something like a TV drama. Ultimately I think most people will still want to consume an hour long drama on their couch in their living room, so if that’s your content then you have to deliver it there. Some WILL watch “on their computer” though. I’ve watched hour long shows on my computer when I had to (streaming) but I’d much rather watch most shows in my living room, even the short ones. Since I have an AppleTV that’s what I do.

    Will it deliver a Nielsen ratings point for some Internet video shows? Yes some shows will make big, big numbers. And it won’t really matter because ultimately the big, big numbers will have less and less value. Targeting will become much more important. I do a knitting show called Let’s Knit2gether. We are approaching 10,000 viewers which is quite respectable but nowhere near big numbers. BUT, every single one of our viewers LOVES knitting and that has value. I know, I know, convincing an ad agency of this is like talking to the bottom of your shoe. Some people out there do get it though and we’ve actually had potential sponsors call US directly. Again this all comes back to the content.

    What shows would you recommend to your parents to watch to get them to move away from the television? Well, if they like knitting they’ll probably like our show:

    Or how about something like this. It’s an hour long drama!


  10. It’s Cablevision with the remote DVR case. It is currently on appeal.

    The simple concept is to move the DVR hard disk out of your house and back to Cablevision’s central office. Cablevision will then record all shows onto your DVR “just in case you missed them”. Since everyone gets the same channels everyone shares the same remote DVR disk.

    There is absolutely nothing technical stopping this from being built. Recording all of the channels remotely and then feeding them back on demand is easily implementable with current technology. This is just an extreme form of switch digital video (SDV).

    I can’t wait for this. No more “appointment” TV.

    Once this happens is it is obviously simple to add internet content as choices in the DVR menu. Of course there is nothing to stop you from recreating a channel via a permanent playlist.

    TV hasn’t been disrupted yet by the digital age like music has. Its time will come too.

  11. “but we’re still waiting for the market to really rival that of traditional television (to invest)”
    Come on Allan, do you really mean that? based on your portfolio (GridNetworks), sounds like you are a bit more proactive than that. By the time the market rivals television is the time that many of the early risktakers, who led the way to the next generation television, will be cashed out with healthy multiples.

    what I’m saying is it’s about expectations – there is going to be a tipping point when mom and dad can order a movie via CinemaNow, or Movielink or, without needing to troubleshoot the S Cable or download Manager. That time is actually now, people just need to be better educated – the writers strike is just focusing the attention to what everyone close to this space already knows (the importance of digital).
    (by the way, great invesment in Grid – but I’m a customer :) Randall Green


  12. Alan I really think that game consoles are going to be the tipping point for IPTV and the console manufacturer that does it first is going to turn itno a full blown media company .

    Sony and Microsoft already are headed to this space with XBox Live and Sony’s Home product .

    Nintendo could also potentially enter the space and already have a Video and downloadable game content channel in Japan .

  13. cosmo1980

    It’s highly optimistic to say that the writer strike will be the inflection point. I live in Europe where the strike will have no consequence for people’s viewing behavior at all.

    As for the US I believe that there aren’t too many really know players that mainstream households would know and use. Yes, the tech savvy will always use the Current TVs, Joosts, Blinx and Youtubes if they feel bored with their TV. We all however know the viewing patterns for those online video consumption. People rather watch short clips than hour long shows. I wouldn’t know any person that sits down on a Sunday evening and says lets turn on the PC to watch a nice video.

    TV and Internet will eventually merge but that will not happen without the big networks having an active role in it.

  14. The inflection point is when my mom or dad has something to watch, period. The current primetime TV offerings, with writers, don’t quite do it since the shows today are for a different demographic, none of which my mom/dad fit into.

    The strike puts enough check in viewer minds to be an issue but I don’t think its the inflection point. Helpful but not it.


  15. The WGA strike accelerates the continued fragmentation of audiences, and could very well be an inflection point:

    1980s – Cosby Show – 33+ rating
    2007 – Heroes – 6 rating
    2008 – ????? – Could we see as low as a 3 or 4 rating for a break-out hit?

    The future is personalized programming that can be accessed across all devices. (1) Most consumers don’t care where a program is from, as long as it interests them and they can watch it whenever they want. (2) The TV is one of many devices consumers want their video.

    How many of my subscriptions would I recommend to my parents? At least 30-40:

  16. As a few people have mentioned above, the WGA Writer’s Strike is probably not the inflection point you’re looking for. While more and more people are looking for video content on the web, they are not devouring large clips. In fact, the average viewing length for online videos is still around three minutes, which is a long way away from a full hour (or, 42 minutes for Tivo viewers) of commitment for one show.

    Sure, more people watched Will Ferrel’s “The Landlord” this past year than watched any one show on TV (over 40 million), but none of his follow-ups got anywhere near that audience (or buzz).

    The “inflection point” you’re looking for, unfortunately for creators like me, is all about technology adoption. There will not be a significant changeover to “web-delivered” video until two things happen:

    1) Computer Hard Drives become the primary storage location for personal video collections. In 1998/99, college students started ripping their CDs into MP3s and sharing them via Napster, and pretty soon after that, everyone else did the same. The same thing won’t happen with video until a) average, consumer hard drives get big enough to store ALL their DVDs, and b) there exists some standard for ensuring quality in digital files.

    2) Just like music needed the iPod, so too does Web-deliverd video need a device to bring the “TV-like experience” to your TV. No one wants the computer experience on your TV; Microsoft’s WebTV failed years ago. I’m not sure why AppleTV (or the like) hasn’t taken off yet, but maybe it’s just too early to tell.

    In any case, the writer’s strike is doing one thing. It’s driving creators to the Web. The growth in online content quality has been amazing during the past few months, and you’re starting to see more and more celebs on the web… that’s only upping everyone’s game.

    So, we’re still stuck dealing with budgets in the hundreds of thousands, and profits in the tens of thousands. However, someone will discover the perfect combination of delivery, quality, and interaction, and they’ll hit the jackpot… albeit probably in 2009 or 2010. Now, everyone repeat after me, “Please be me. Please be me. Please be me.”

  17. Allan Leinwand

    @Ryan – yes, I am speaking of GridNetworks ( I think the lead-in to this post on NewTeeVee actually has a link to the company, so I was not trying to be obtuse but rather not blatant :) I do think that they have a superior distribution technology for high quality video and that should help enable Internet video to scale faster. Stay tuned for a Mac client in the very near future. As for your snowball, we’ll see what happens, but I think we’re thinking along the same lines.

  18. Allan Leinwand

    @Lou – agreed on the momentum being with the content creators. When do Mom and Dad get inspired to watch this content?

    @Drew – yes, in my view a single ratings point is the goal as that will attract advertisers and absolutely convince them of the viability of television over the Internet.

    @Alan – thanks for the link. Got any other content that will draw mainstream to Internet video?

    @JD – agreed! What content do you think will generate higher CPM rates?

    @dave – good luck with your content. Please post a link and we’ll hope for a huge viewership.

    @Don – great insights!

    @Jon – I think the advertisers will have an issue with every show being on demand all the time. I think we’ll see some flexibility around viewing windows (e.g. you can watch “The Office” on Thursday night during a 6 hour window). Time will tell…

  19. Wow! I’m kind of shocked by most of these answers. My personal shock aside from statements like “getting in on the ground floor” or “not expecting any mass migration from TV to web” (are these people under 90 years old?), I’ll try to stay close to the question: Will the writers strike be the inflection point for online video?

    In short, yes! If the current migration to web for rich media, the rapid rate of technology that improves that experience and the low cost, ubiquitous platform that is the web were not enough, having no new content on TV is the nail in the coffin. Ironic isn’t it? I recently stated that the lack of new TV content will ironically be the greatest disruptor we’ve seen in years, to drive more people and more importantly, peoples time, to viewing video online.

    Ratings points are an obsolete measurement and we need a new set of metrics really. I took at look at panorama’s portfolio and while it’s mostly medical, gridnetworks is the one I believe Allen is speaking of. Everyone in the space says they have the “best” haha, so I’ll just assume that Grid is actually the best at giving the user the true HD experience. Although when I tried it out I couldn’t use it because I’m on a mac at the moment. I know there’s no scale in mac’s but most video, content, early adapter people use them, so I always find it frustrating that stuff isn’t made for mac users in the video space. Anyway, Allen, would love to debate this point more offline. For the record, I hope the WGA gets a fair deal, but if the strike goes past March, the snowball will have rolled to far down hill and online rich media is going to eat TV’s lunch sooner than later.

  20. My time is too valuable to sit through 20 minutes of TV commercials in an hour. I only watch about two hours of TV a week and it is all from DVR with a commercial skip button. The evening news is a joke, might as well rename it drugs are us. If my wife would let me I’d have the cable disconnected.

    Only exception to this is live sports which still completely annoy me with commercials. Sometimes to the point that I will turn the game off rather than watch the commercials.

    I spend at least three hours a day consuming information from the net mainly in email and RSS form. Ads? I can’t name a single ad I’ve been exposed to in the last week. I’m bombarded by 10,000 ads a week; I’m so desensitized to them I barely know they are there.

    When I want to be entertained I read a book (two or three a week) or see a rare movie (once a month). Neither of these are filled with overt commercials.

    My advice for online content – sell one or two targeted ads at a high price. Not 2,000 for $100 each. If there were only one or two ads I might even watch them.

    Channel based TV is going to disintegrate into total on-demand. What’s the status of the court case where Comcast is building a DVR in the sky? If they record every show on every channel just in case you missed it, it is the end of channels. Once TV goes total on-demand with playlists there will be no difference between TV content and Internet content. Of course with total on-demand TV comes targeted advertising and Google.

    So the answer is: the writers strike has no impact. TV as we currently know it is already on the path to its destruction.

  21. It’s not just the Writer’s Strike you need to consider. Analog Television ends February 2009 – and with it the power of “Must-Carry” for the local broadcasters. I suspect that the next round of cable negations will look a lot like past agreements – with the local powerhouse stations getting compensation for carriage. However, in the next round, when it has become apparent that the consumer no longer watches “Over The Air” television, the cable companies will turn the tables on the broadcasters.

    As new television “appliances” are developed with Internet connectivity, the consumer will achieve their demand of “a la cart” through a combination of providers and services.

    The Strike, if it carries into the Upfronts, will force the networks to alter their plans, with a result of the consumers foraging for content. People will hear about great things on the Internet seen on their neighbors Internet enabled TV and more will buy these appliances.

    Broadcast Television only shines on live events, everything else is delivered via tape or video servers – even now. All that’s needed is one provider to cut out the broadcaster middleman.

  22. I live in LA and have many friends in the WGA.

    While I think an influx of web viewership is happening due to the strike, I would not expect any ‘mass’ migration until audiences can easily watch video on their TV sets. That’s the big missing ingredient. Right now, this process is way too cumbersome… and audiences lack patience if viewing palm-sized clips that are surrounded by tons of distracting desktop clutter (windows, folders, icons, IMs).

    Once TV can become more of a jukebox, more people (even the “moms and dads” you speak of) will watch longer online content.

    I think the internet is a fantastic distribution medium, but it’s not a great display medium (at least when it comes to watching a series). TV sets offer the reverse– great display, lousy distribution. We’re not too far away from finding a hybrid of the two that will succeed. Apple TV and OnDemand had some big hiccups but they are steps in the right direction.

    As a case study/testimonial…

    In a week or two, we’re a launching a very cool web series, The Mortified Shoebox Show, based on our popular books and stage shows, MORTIFIED. We’re really proud of what we’ve produced and think it has huge potential.

    That said, we recognize that we are launching a series via a medium that has yet to mature. So while we hope our series will catch on in the current web environment… we don’t expect our efforts to have giant payoff until the medium matures and offers something more akin to OnDemand.

    The good news?

    The web is actually changing pretty damn fast. Which is EXACTLY why getting in on the ground floor is worth the risk (for content creators like us… or sponsors… or VCs).

  23. IMO, Internet TV is the bomb and leads to new forms of broadcasting which some of us are already practising profitablly and it is going quite well in fact. A rating point may not happen for one Internet program but it does not matter b/c the aggregated audience of an Internet network that distributes programming may be far larger than a Nielsen 6.0 or even Grey’s Anatomy 12.0. Business methods we have implemented is the future of broadcasting b/c we hit millions per week with ads for a fraction of the cost. In fact, TV may charge around $30 CPM we charge $.30 and the results are far better and measurable. The writer above points out that these days networks are drumming up 4.0 nielsen ratings. I can reach 4 million targeted people with an ad in five minutes and most likely 15% will open it and 4% will go on for further information. Of that 4%, I will convert 4% on the first touch. We have seen the future of broadcasting and it is here today. Cheers.

  24. There are some great unknown and previously know artist that are just begging to be aggregated into new internet properties that may be the harbinger of the shift to put internet video on the same footing as Television.

    Want an example of raw talent? See

    With a little budget and script development, talent like this can steal the show from the crippled television industry.

  25. A rating point? That’s the goal? Not going to happen for any single web property. Just the same way cable has made it hard for top network shows to put together more than half a dozen points themselves. Here are last night’s numbers. Ratings/Share

    Jan. 3, 2008
    ABC 1.8/5 NBC 4.0/10 CBS 2.6/7 CW 0.9/2 FOX 4.0/10
    Adults, 18-49
    Source: Nielsen Media Research

    The internet video market is of course even more fragmented for any one program or network to build TV scale audiences. That said you’ll notice that the internet is now a larger advertising medium than TV in Sweden and by next year the UK as well. It’s a tough place for mass marketers would need mass advertising channels.

  26. It’s not that simple. The number of people who get their content from television are far greater than those who get it from a computer. And you can’t go down to Costco and buy a computer with the robustness to adequately view online content. We’re going to have to see a huge upsurge in the purchase of equipment and training to drive an inflection point for online content. That’s not going to be easy, especially in the current economic climate

    What I have been finding is more people are turning to Netflix and are watching more movies and boxed sets of favorite, but cancelled television series. My teenage son has become a big fan of video podcasts and is moving away from network production. So there is a possibility of an upsurge in independent production of content supported by advertising taken from networks and major production houses. The momentum is on the side of content creators if they can hold out long enough.