Friday, November 16, 2007

More Strike Stuff

A WGA reader just pointed me to this site dedicated to imploring both the writers and the studios to just "get back in that room" because of all the collateral damage the strike is causing to non-striking employees.

On the one hand, the site's anonymous author has a point. Negotiation is good, bargaining is good, there certainly seems to be a small window over the next couple days for a compromise before the logic of the conflict points toward a long, dug-in standoff.

Also, the author is certainly correct that lots of working folks are going to get squished by this strike and that's both unfortunate and unfair.

The only problem with the "pox on both their houses" approach--although maybe this is better described as "can't we all just get along"--is that it imputes a certain moral equivalence between the two sides that doesn't really seem to exist. In some cases, the studios have been playing games to get out of paying writers what they're owed (with streaming broadcasts labeled "promotions"). In others, they're trying to roll-back the residuals writers get on the next generation of delivery vehicles (by giving writers less on downloads than they get from DVDs). There's no economic justification for this--it's simply an assertion of the power of oligopoly. Imploring "both sides" to get back to the table is a little like asking "both sides" of a mugging to stop fighting. That's an incredibly bad analogy, but you get what I'm driving at.

There is one way, however, in which both sides are responsible--in the game theory sense of the word--for the strike. The WGA is right, but in a strategically weak. The studios are wrong, but in a strategically strong position. The dynamics of this sort of encounter alway, always beg for confrontation. Both parties have incentive to confront and disincentive to compromise.


Anonymous said...

Two arguments in favor of the studios:

1) The WGA is attempting to raise the effective minimum wage for writers by forcing the studios to pay residuals on everything to every writer. Currently, writers can try to negotiate a back end/profit sharing contract.

Studios are typically reluctant to give writers those contracts because writers don't fill seats the way actors & directors do. While a great script is needed to make a great movie, it isn't neccessary to make a profitable movie. That's where your analogy of writers to offensive lines falters because studios don't need great/goog writers to make money. I'd say writers are more like defenses, you need a defense to win (make a great movie), but fans show up to watch the offense (writers & directors).

Writers are much more important on TV than in film. So, writers with proven track records should have an easier time negotiating better deals on their own. But, there's still the problem of the most profitable TV shows not neccessarily being the best written.

2) The studios take all of the financial risk when creating a film or TV series. If the movie or TV series flops, the studio is the only one that ends up losing money. Why shouldn't the studio enjoy all of the finanical benefit for making something profitable when they assume all of the risk?

Anonymous said...

I think the strike is driven by the new reality: movies are losing money, and so are TV networks.

You've seen the IHT article detailing an aggregate $2 billion loss for all the studios for movies. And Deadline Hollywood has the news that NBC has sent force majeur letters to the cast of Bionic Woman, 30 Rock, and BSG. This on the top of letters to showrunners.

Are JJ Abrams, Tim Kring, Ron Moore, Shonda Rhimes, Joss Whedon, or Amy Sherman-Palladino worth the money they got? Evidence suggests no. Palladino was not renewed on Gilmore Girls, even though the money was "trivial" i.e. a few million by Hollywood standards. What value do these A-List writer/creators bring to the studios?

Probably not much. Reality shows routinely bring in higher ratings. There's been a lot of cheerleading by creative people for the niche programming that cable channel proliferation, niche shows that generate "buzz" create, but they don't make money because people don't watch them.

TV is a female-gay ghetto, leaving out half the population. Movies depend entirely on young men ginned up by marketing campaigns (which in turn depends on there being games as the only alternative to entertainment given TV's female-gay status) which leaves out women and older men.

Basic economics: niche products require Rolls Royce luxury products to generate enough money for everyone else beside studios to get paid. The pot of money is shrinking -- mostly due to games being a stronger alternative for men and women being fragmented over TV channels.

My guess is that the Studios win this one, with show-runners taking vastly reduced deals and the average writer being replaced, likely by cheap outsourced writers from abroad, working remotely via the internet.

Lesson: If you're not generating money for the owner you don't get paid much.