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WGA strike and the future of film and TV production

By Matt Champagne  |  22-Nov-2007

The writers are going to lose this strike. The WGA is finished.

I know for some of you that is a pretty grim prediction, because essentially the writers deserve to win. The writers want an increase in residuals from 4 cents to 8 cents per DVD sold. If you ask me even 8 cents per DVD is ridiculously low... which was my first indication that the writers can't win. If the WGA was striking for residuals, it would have asked for a higher number and conceded for less in negotiation. There really isn't a ton of negotiation room between 4 and 8 cents that the WGA can still accept as victory. Now certainly, we all know that the difference of a few cents could mean thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars for a hit. But when it comes to the press impact can they really come out and say "We had to compromise a little...but we won an increase.... its 6 cents now!"

So why strike if its not about residuals? Because its about self preservation. Through the last year of negotiations the WGA realized it was losing ground. If they didn't do something before the contract expired...then the contract would just expire and the studios would just start doing whatever they wanted, regardless of what the WGA thinks...essentially breaking the union. For a multitude of reasons, I think that even with the strike, a breakage of the union is still inevitable.

Affecting the unaffected
The WGA has an enormous weakness in the fact that the people most negatively affected by the strike, are the least positively affected by the result. The people who are out of work today - i.e. writers for the Tonight show, Daily Show, and so on - have very little stake in the outcome. These types of shows don't have a strong DVD product.

Conversely, the people who do worry about residuals have essentially already been paid, and are still getting paid (though at the lower rate) for their current residuals. Most of these shows have already shot to the end of the season. How long can the day to day writers stay on strike on behalf of writers who are significantly better paid, who are sitting at home still collecting checks? In the case of shows that are new, or have yet to get a foothold, how long can these writers afford to not work while their show loses what little popularity it had. Right now, just a few days after the strike, Ellen is already getting negative criticism for going back on the air and performing comedy...or in the case of Ellen I should say attempting to perform comedy.

Forcing collusion
The major studios are always in competition. Each time sweeps comes around they make a desperate attempt to compete against one another in hopes of getting more of the market share. Certainly, if one studio was being boycotted by writers, that studio would be hard pressed to find a solution as quick as possible...but that isn't the case.

Since all studios are being boycotted, then none have to worry about their competition pulling ahead in the ratings with some new series. If everyone's quality of product goes down by the same amount, then they are still equal. If no studio can get writers to write new material, then they are all competing on equal footing.

Companies need to advertise their product, and they only care about numbers. They don't care if they are advertising on the newest episode of Lost, or an old episode of I love Lucy. They want X eyeballs for Y dollars...period.

And if you think that Americans will stop watching TV anytime soon just because there is nothing on...well you must not have turned on a TV in a while...there's been nothing on for years now and still people are watching.

The brave new world
The world has changed alot since the last strike in 1988. There are a ton more stations, and alot more content out there. The most biggest change, however, is the internet. The internet, many experts say will help bring a speedy resolution to this strike, because TV studios can't afford to lose more audience to internet media. I think quite the opposite is true. The internet is the nail in the coffin for the WGA.

The thing to remember is that above all things...the studios have money. How does a studio compete with an internet series stealing all their viewers? Simple...it buys it. Even a successful web series creator can't pull down the money that a studio can offer. When you gross $200,000 a year and have to pay actors and crew out of that, its pretty hard to turn down an offer from a studio who offers you $500,000 per season....which is ridiculously cheaper than the studio would have spent to make it in the first place.

The internet will essentially become the major stations new golden goose. They will have the opportunity to pick up programs that have already been created, already been tested and have already generated an audience. And once one big internet series gets picked up for a six or seven figure deal, the internet will literally explode with content...more so than it already has.

When I first began writing this article, I thought that this would be a few months away. Too my surprise before I'd even finished the article, NBC announced it would pick up the web series QuarterLife. NBC has made the mistake of not publicizing the dollar figures of the deal, so it went largely unnoticed by the web community. It won't take long before some network realizes that publicizing a seven figure deal with a web series will inspire a huge influx of self financed content. It's clear that now more than ever the studios can easily by their way out of their troubles.

Once it becomes clear that the studios can survive, and even prosper without contract writing staff, the writers will have no choice but to cross the picket line. Once a union loses its ability to cause significant financial damage with a strike, that union is essentially dead.

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