December 09, 2007

Cutting Off One's Nose to Spite One's Face

AS SOMEONE WHO WRITES for a living, albeit in a different field, I have made no secret here I am fully and completely in support of the Writers Guild of America in their strike against their paymasters, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Simply put, as a writer myself, I think it's important that writers get paid for their work, and receive a fair share of the revenues that result from their efforts. This is a notoriously difficult thing in the entertainment industry, where normal business procedures revolve around screwing writers whilst an army of producers and to a lesser extent actors get all the money.

Fittingly enough given the issues on the table, the best place to get information about the month-old strike is on an Internet site known as Deadline Hollywood Daily, which veteran journalist Nikki Finke writes. At present, we learn from Ms Finke, the AMPTP are playing hardball and have walked away from negotiations, while the WGA is understandably refusing to give into the producers' demands.

For the moment, anyway, the networks are doing fine. Their revenues aren't great but their costs are way down and that means profit and profit is good. But that situation can't last forever, of course. So my question is this: at what point, from the producers' view, does allowing the writers' strike to continue mean they are cutting off their noses to spite their faces?

I mean, as a member of the Key 18-34 Demographic, about all I watch on television are professional sports and, to a lesser extent, news programs. This is because the shows the Hollywood producers vomit out onto the airwaves are shit. Should the strike continue, the airwaves will be increasingly filled with reality television programs and game shows and other entertainment that will prove particularly foul shit. As such, they're not going to gain much of an audience among people like me, who have some measure of disposable income and are prone to cleverly-produced advertisements for imported beer, electronic gadgetry and major durable goods, viz:

How I wish I could justify buying one of those. Oh, well. Anyway, my point is this. We already know the ratings are down because of the strike, which means people have already stopped watching network television as a result. That trend should continue because, as amazing as it may seem to the brain trust in Los Angeles, the American people have a limit as to how much crap they can stomach. No, really. I'm not kidding.

Sure, there's a demographic out there that will lap up everything thrown at it, but it's fair to say in our winner-take-all society they won't have the resources to buy the goods advertisers want to sell them. In the meantime, though, most viewers will seek out other forms of entertainment in an increasingly fractionalized marketplace. Will they return once the strike is over? At least some won't -- and if nothing good is on, well, then it's really up in the air.

One wonders how much that will have an effect on the networks' bottom lines. They may be doing all right for the moment, but in the end they may come to realize their hardball tactics have meant they've cut off their noses to spite their faces.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at December 9, 2007 09:44 AM | TrackBack
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