Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Free TV a Goner?

WSJ 11/14/05 p B8 "Hollywood Writers Push Back Against Product Placement"

The Writers Guild of America wants a code of conduct developed which requires disclosure at the beginning of each TV show of the products which were incorporated because of placement deals (i.e. as opposed to being part of the writer's storyline). If the studios don't go along with this, the writers intend to seek support from the FCC.
One of the signs of the end of an industry is when its incumbents seek the government's help in maintaining the status quo, rather than let free market forces drive sellers to produce what buyers desire.

It's not that I don't understand where the writers are coming from. Their ability to get future employment is heavily influenced by how their prior work is perceived by future employers. If the requirements of a product placement deal make a writer's scripts look like a joke, potential future employers might disregard that writer as a candidate for future scripts. The writers are probably just as concerned that their peers will look down their noses at them unless the writer can say "they made me put that big speech about Lime Coke in the love scene."

Television writers misunderstand their role. They aren't journalists, who have a higher calling to seek truth and communicate it to the public. Writers get paid when they produce something for which someone is willing to pay, like a TV script with embedded product placement. Seems to me that if a writer is really good, they might be able to weave product placement into a script almost seamlessly. If the scripts the writers produce are valuable and scarce, they have more power to set terms and conditions. But if that were true, they wouldn't need the government to intervene.The folks who produce and distribute TV shows are realizing that their world is at the beginning of a radical change, and they're desperately trying to figure out what the new revenue model will be.

Advertising revenue from discrete 30sec commercials is about to evaporate. The people who run the television business aren't going to let their ability to participate in the future of video entertainment get screwed up by the writers. For every Guild member who refuses to write for a show because they don't like something, there will be multiple underemployed writers willing to take their place. The Writers Guild needs to adopt or be rendered irrelevant.

Very few creators of art get to make a lot of money and also have complete control of their product. Mozart died penniless because he value art over wealth. We're all thankful for that. "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand is a classic story of artist freedom versus art-for-money. I'm sure television writers are frequently asked to change their scripts to meet someone else's needs (e.g. to support a political position). Is there a real difference here?

So to the members of the Writers Guild, you have a choice:
  • Resist change, and cry to the government for help if you don't get your way. Your employers will find a way to do without you.
  • Work on updating your craft, and figure out how to blend the commercial requirements of your business with your artistic vision. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
  • Get out of the business now. If you want freedom, write a book --- oh, wait a minute, I forgot about the editors.

Guess you need to write a blog...

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