To watch the AMPTP (movie and TV producers) disinformation campaign against the Writers Guild of America (screenwriters) is to watch a replay of the record industry's profit-motivated suicide of the 1990's.
The record industry saw the advent of digital media storage (CD's) as a chance to commoditize their product. They would charge more to consumers (even though CD's cost less than records to produce) and pay musicians less. It looked rosey for a moment. CD sales spiked shortly after their invention, as boomer-age consumers replaced their record collections with CDs. This motivated major media conglomerates to absorb the attractive balance sheets of the record industry. The labels became divisions of conglomerates, where Wall Street analysis replaced any regard for talent or quality. They didn't realize that the sales spike was simply the replacement of old product, and didn't think to develop new talent. They wouldn't even have known how.
The emergence of NAPSTER and other file-sharing was seen as a threat (or even an excuse for poor sales) rather than an opportunity to generate new ones and new revenue streams. Unfamiliar with music, these corporations were unable to approach it from any perspective but the protection of copyright. Unfamiliar with and even contemptuous of musicians and their culture, these corporations saw talent as a labor pool and listeners as consumers. Human resources. Rather than come up with innovative solutions to migration from records to CD's to the net, they saw each stage as an opportunity to divert more revenue streams away from artists and towards themselves. The ill-will only provoked more "file sharing," as musicians revealed to consumers that profits from CD sales weren't really passed down to them, anyway.
Today, faced with similar opportunities for innovation, media development, and content distribution, the AMPTP is choosing instead to find ways to cut its creative community out of the revenue stream. In their current media campaign against striking writers (and going so far as to cancel series, or lie to the press and public about which side is actually refusing to attend the negotiations), the AMPTP is already spending more than complete capitulation to the writers' original demands would have cost them over the next several decades.
Instead of finding ways to include writers in the profits that might be generated by the online distribution of content, they insist on calling such use "promotional," and keeping the revenue (mostly ad revenue) for themselves.
Should we be shocked or dismayed? Of course not. This is the way large corporations can be expected to behave. But what it does portend is the end of the mainstream corporate dominance of both television and movies. Yes: this is the moment we have been waiting for. Just as the music industry collapsed, so, too, is the film industry collapsing under its own weight and the chronic inability to see opportunities as anything but threats (or chances to bilk labor).
Get out your camcorders, kids. Fire up your Final Cut. And most of all, think of some good stories to tell. There a lot of people out there who will be awfully hungry for your content before too long. And – unlike the corporate producers – they might even pay you for it.
Creative Commons Image by seamusiv on Flickr.