The new Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike, based on the Guild’s claim for residual royalties, may well set off a revolution. The seemingly endless fights between mainstream media and the writers now have a new alternative- Online media.
TechCrunch’s Doug Aamoth states:…One rule, in particular, caught my interest. It says; “The Rules prohibit writing services performed for a struck company in connection with new programming intended for initial viewing on non-traditional media (such as the Internet and cellular telephones), and the option or sale of literary material for that purpose.”
Basically, no writing for websites owned by big media companies. No rules against online ventures that you start yourselves or that are owned by someone or something independent of the companies against which you’re striking.
The war between old media and the internet
Yep, you guessed it- There’s an easy out for online-only media in particular. If internet TV and other obvious replacements for conventional media haven’t been getting much support from the big corporates, this is one of the weak points.
The less obvious issue is that the writers’ strike opens the door for online production companies. More flexible options are available. The writers aren’t glued to mainstream production as they were. In the past, the dispute was between employers and employees. Now it’s between businesses.
Other options are also available. Big corporates like Amazon, online media production like Felicia Day’s many popular online shows and alternative writing sites like NewbBay.com, an incubator for writers, aren’t involved in the dispute. All that writing can now go elsewhere.
The media environment has also changed. The WGA strike of 2007 was about writing credits. That sort of issue is an old-style media problem, based on the virtual cartel of media interests which existed at the time. Online, writers can work on a contractual/license basis, a very different ball game. They can own copyright and negotiate individual deals.
Corporate moves against internet competition
It’s not like the corporates don’t know this. A recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing into a deal between AT&T and DirectTV includes this interesting statement by WGA-W (Writers Guild of America West) president Christopher Keyser:
“Because the power to control the pipeline actually trumps the power to create, it brings with it the power to undermine the revolutionary power of the internet itself,”
Keyser told senators. He said that AT&T's deal together with Comcast's for Time Warner Cable would give two companies more than 50 percent of cable and web subscribers and both the power and the incentive to restrict new web competitors like Amazon and Neflix.
Ideology aside, read “cartel”. Old media wants to control the new. New media, rightly, doesn’t want to be controlled, particularly in the areas of revenue and internet accessibility. The stage is set for a showdown, however accidental, between conflicting interests.
Don’t be too surprised to find a lot of deals being done- And not done. There’s a lot at stake, now triggered by a dispute which is far less important than these issues.