Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Solidarity um... Line!

You may have noticed when your favourite late night talk show went into reruns last week that the Writers Guild of America is on strike. The strike centres on the issue of internet downloading and DVD sales. See, whenever a show airs on television, the writers of that show get a small cut of the revenue. However, when the show is streamed over the internet on the company's website replete with advertisements, the writers get nothing. The writers' take on DVD sales is miniscule. This is why the writers guild is on strike. They want their cut. This is not an unreasonable demand and my guess is that eventually they'll get it. The reason this is even an issue in my view, is the ever shrinking pie that they are looking to get a cut from.

The movement of many TV shows to streaming internet video is an attempt to regain a lost market. Increasingly, young people, like myself, are relying on free internet downloads to watch their shows and movies when they want to. Of course, this practice is illegal and there is no profit taking involved. While some people may be willing to pay a few dollars for the show on iTunes, the vast majority of people who download will continue to do so. This represents a significant market reduction for networks for their shows. The problem is made all the worse by the fact that the people who download shows are the exact market advertisers crave: young men and women. The attempts by networks like Comedy Central to meet people half way (streaming video on their websites with ads) has been, in my view, the most effective way of countering this problem. Sure, people complain that you can't find Stewart and Colbert on YouTube anymore but you also will have a hell of a time finding a pirated version to download (check out your favourite torrent site). This isn't because nobody wants to watch those shows, but because there is no reason to wait for a download that will take up hard drive space when you can access the entire library of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on their website. The streaming option works well for those shows partially because Comedy Central can break the shows into segments and run short ads before each segment. A show that was not so segmented may encounter more problems trying to stream. One of the appeals of downloading is that you are not forced to watch a billion commercials that disrupt the flow of the plot. If the show is segmented, there is no plot to disrupt. If you try to apply the same model to drama you may encounter a problem. However, it is probably the only way for networks to save their shows and the writers should get a cut.

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