In case you didn’t know, the Writers Guild of America is currently on strike, something fans of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show have been painfully aware of for close to two weeks. The union that represents television and feature film writers walked off the job November 5, after talks between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP)–an organization representing the big media companies that employ the lion’s share of Hollywood talent–broke down.
In the past, media conglomerates had leverage over the strikers; they were disciplined, controlled the media message and were in a better position to split a union where many of its members worked alone and didn’t often communicate with one another. No more. A spectrum of blogs, websites and video-sharing services like YouTube have upended the traditional strike dynamic, in much the same way they have changed the way the entertainment industry does business.
The new digital expanse has “given the strikers a voice they did not have in 1988,” said feature film writer John Aboud, a strike captain, referring to the last year the WGA held a work stoppage. “There is an opportunity now to take our case directly to the public with the strength, the clarity and the frequency the guild did not have even five years ago.”
The sticking point for Aboud and the WGA is the digital extension of TV shows and movies, which can be viewed on everything from a cellphone to a PC. Writers want a cut of the new take, while the AMPTP has argued the studios don’t know what the business of selling content over the Internet will become since it is still growing, so setting up a profit participation structure now is premature.
Aboud is a co-creator of UnitedHollywood, a blog started by WGA strike captains that includes listings, comments and video from writers and fans. One of the most popular links on the site is a clip called “Voices of Uncertainty,” a mash-up of media moguls giddily talking about all the money they will make from digital extensions of their brands that’s intercut with asides noting writers aren’t included. “Uncertainty” has more than 175,000 views on YouTube. “Why We Fight,” a primer on WGA’s argument for striking, has generated 345,000 views.
“There’s a conflict going on here where corporations are saying how much revenue they are making on the Internet but then claiming there is no way to monetize the Internet as a revenue stream,” explained Jace, the creator of the blog Televisionary. “It’s hard to say how much profit, but it is clear that there is revenue.”