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Peter's Column-What's At Stake

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As we went to press, the long-threatened writers’ strike was inevitable.
The WGA and the AMPTP simply couldn’t find common ground. The producers didn’t help matters when they not only insisted that writers drop their demands for higher DVD residuals, but also that residuals from downloaded content be treated the same way as those from physical discs.
It’s not our role at Below the Line to take sides in this or any other labor dispute. At stake are many complicated issues—including health-care, pensions and other benefits—in addition to figuring out how to allocate payments from new media, many of which are as yet unproven revenue generators.
But it is our role to support the industry that we’re a part of, and to oppose any action that could disrupt the wheels of production and postproduction that keep people employed.
In 1988, the last time the writers struck, the walkout lasted 22 weeks and cost the industry an estimated $500 million in lost revenue. A strike of that length this time around would cause far more damage.
In fact, it could cause permanent damage—especially to the highly vulnerable television side of the business.
Nineteen years ago, the decrease in the output of scripted programming resulted in an upsurge of TV magazine shows like 48 Hours. This time around, there would be an increase in reality shows; programs like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars would find themselves in crowded company.
But 19 years ago, when the strike ended, the magazine show craze subsided and scripted material returned to the airwaves. Television breezed into the 90s, cable gained market share over broadcasting, and both forms of TV provided plenty of work for the production community.
But today, many TV’s are already tuned not to Grey’s Anatomy but to Halo 3. For the multitasking generation, TV is just one of many viewing alternatives. At the time of the last strike they wanted their MTV. Now they want their Ipods, their TiVo, their broadband TV and their cell phone video.
They want everything, at any time, on any screen—and with technology exploding the way it is, they’re about to be able to get it. Nothing is more endangered by this than old fashioned linear television, with its reliance on scripted programming and its chronologically programmed channels.
So this time around, here’s what’s at stake: If TV loses some of its audience, those people may never come back. Ever. They’ll adopt new viewing habits centered not on the TV in their dens but on the screens at their desktops, on their laps, and in their hands.
And everyone would lose. The writers. The producers. And members of the below-the-line and the above-the-line communities alike. That’s why this paper encourages a quick resolution to the dispute. As they each strive to win this battle, WGA and AMPTP could lose the war.

Written by Peter Caranicas

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