Parody photo removed by request… original at Entertainment Weekly
As a one-time wannabe screenwriter, is it easy to take sides in the writers’ strike? Not really. I’m not read-in enough to know whether or not they’re really getting a raw deal from the producers (I should probably re-subscribe to Variety, but jeeez is it expensive), and moreover, I just don’t think it matters.
Several commentators I like have scoffed at the idea of creatives going on strike — This Week in Media‘s Alex Lindsay recalls what happened to the strike-ridden steel industry in his hometown of Pittsburgh, and Fake Steve offered a profanity-laced tirade against the writers. And Fake Steve’s hyperbole aside, they’re both largely on the mark that the strike won’t end well, but I don’t think either quite expresses the pointlessness of it completely.
To wit: while Hollywood is arguing about divvying up the money when someone watches Two And A Half Men on the Internet, they’re conveniently ignoring the fact that nobody with access to everything on the Internet would waste their time watching Two And A Half Men.
To me, the strike scenario is as if Broadway playwrights had gone on strike in 1955 to angle for more money from television broadcasts of their plays, ignorant of how the new medium would develop new forms and render Broadway inert and irrelevant within a generation (prima facie evidence: the existence of Legally Blonde: The Musical).
The writers may be able to get a better percentage from producers, but who’s to say producers can deliver? Both sides derive their power from scarcity: of distribution channels, or talent, of production capacity, etc. Of course, the net is all about abundance, not scarcity. As TV viewership drops year over year, more eyes are going onto a medium that so far has resisted attempts to control or limit it.
Do the writers or producers really realize what they’re ultimately up against? There are thousands, perhaps millions of people generating content in various forms on the net. Not all of it is good, maybe most of it isn’t, but do you really want to bet your career on the premise that you’re funnier or more dramatic than 100,000 rivals?
Developing entertainment for large, broad audiences made sense when there were only three broadcast networks, but now, niches rule. And the successful creators may be the ones who thrive best finding small, intensely loyal audiences.
Adamson’s Second Law is that technological media revolutions proceed or repeat in order of bandwidth: data, text, still images, audio, and video. Take a phenomenon and you can see how this works. What can you store on your mobile phone? First just some speed-dial numbers, then an address book (text), then wallpapers and photos (images), then MP3s, and now video. What can you send over a network, store on a sneakernet device, or manipulate in a web context? Every time, it goes in this order.
So here’s a revolution for you: making a living off internet-delivered content. We already have bloggers who support themselves off their writing (text), and a few webcomics creators do the same (Penny Arcade and Megatokyo, for example). There are podcasters and other audio creators paying the bills entirely with their online work (Brian Ibbott of Coverville is one; Leo Laporte may be another example, depending on how much of his work is in podcasting and how much is as talent in traditional electronic media). If there aren’t already people supporting themselves with online video — Homestar Runner arguably counts — there will be soon. It’s inevitable.
Do I think the future of entertainment media is all Homestar Runner home businesses? No, at least not entirely. But I think the cat’s out of the bag, and the traditional producers don’t have the market cornered on eyeballs anymore. The new world is going to be a lot more varied, a lot more anarchic, and given the idea that unions are effectively collectives to monopolize labor in order to drive up its price, the online media world is going to route around that like the damage it is.