By Michael Rau
December 3, 2007
Have you been following the writer's strike out West in the "Land of Dreams"?
If you're like most folks, you're probably aware that it's going on, but also probably haven't perceived much impact from it yet.
You will, if you're at all a fan of scripted television or movies.
Late night talk shows had to go into reruns immediately because there was no one to write the jokes. Some episodic series had a few scripts in the can, but most will have to shut down production soon. Movies, which require writers to tweak scripts while in production, will be put on hold.
So why are you reading about this in your friendly neighborhood technology column? I'm glad you asked. Stay with me here.
As reported last week in Time Magazine, one of the more curious efforts to develop in relationship to the walkout is that of a group of strikers high profile members of the Writer's Guild of America who along with a group of A-list actors, have produced dozens of short black-and-white public service announcements intended to creatively present their side of the issues which caused them to strike.
The actors including Holly Hunter, Sean Penn, Laura Linney, Demi Moore, Martin Sheen, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jenna Elfman, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Benjamin, Ed Asner, David Schwimmer and the cast of "Ugly Betty," along with the writers and those who helped with the production, have created a funny and poignant series of short films, 15 seconds to four minutes in length, that make very powerful statements.
And not surprisingly, their chosen method for delivering these productions is none other than the Internet which is at the root of the cause of their strike.
See the Writer's Guild short films at speechlesswithoutwriters.com.
This is really important. It speaks to who ultimately controls artistic and intellectual properties, and how it's distributed.
Historically, the major studios and music companies which have evolved into today's mega media corporations were a necessity to facilitate the mass distribution of popular media. The amount of capital required to produce and distribute movies, television programming, music and even periodicals, necessitated these huge ventures.
Technology is changing everything, allowing for high-quality production and distribution methods for all forms of media at a fraction of the cost.
How this can work is readily demonstrated by the Writer's Guild project described above.
Another great example is how the band "Radiohead," long respected in alternative music circles, but not so much by the mainstream music industry, chose to distribute their latest album directly over the Internet, thus completely bypassing the conventional music distribution goliaths. They even went so far as to let consumers pay what they thought it was worth.
So just how does this relate to you, the average consumer?
Like this: The ability for artists and creators to deliver their product to you directly, bypassing the old orthodox media companies, will eventually lead to a complete sea change in the entertainment industry.
Systems that allow you to download video and music via the Internet and play it through your home entertainment system already exist. Although this methodology is obviously much more evolved for music than video so far, the Apple TV appliance is one example.
Some of that programming may still come from large studios, but some may come from completely unconventional, independent production outfits.
In this case, the Internet is the great equalizer. It's the distribution network that renders the mega media companies unnecessary.
Ironically, it's the fact that the big media companies have resisted sharing revenue from the portion of their programming now being distributed over the Internet that's led to the strike. This in turn is demonstrating the declining relevance of these companies in terms of the entertainment business.
The one area where they may have an advantage is in feature motion pictures. Distribution of movies to theaters is in a transitional stage right now. Most are still using reels of film, which require the resources to dub and distribute the prints up front. But that too is changing. Soon, movies will be distributed in a digital form.
So the only question left to answer is whether or not the big media companies will evolve with the times, or stick to their outmoded formulas, thus ensuring a continued gravitation by the artistic community away from their domineering influence.
And how will broadcast companies, such as cable-TV and satellite providers, prepare for this future? They hate the idea of a-la-carte programming, but unless they're willing to reach out to independent producers and artists, they'll miss the boat and rapidly become as irrelevant as the other big media companies.
The future is now, and the participants in the writer's strike are ably demonstrating how technology can engender populism.
Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, go to http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.
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