Does the writers strike matter? In a word, yes

first_imgThe pen remains mighty indeed.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! A woman with a friendly voice called our sister publication, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Monday morning and posed a question – or maybe it was more a statement in the form of a question – about the writers strike: Who cares? she asked. The inquiry, at least from a consumer’s point of view, is valid. For the typical television viewer, the work stoppage is about as relevant as a VCR. Satellite, cable, the Internet, Netflix, podcasts and other services provide so many ways to deliver entertainment to Americans that there is little risk of redundant viewing. The multitude of choices, however, are at the core of the strike. Screenwriters and studios cannot agree on what content is worth when it is placed on the World Wide Web or on DVD. We understand the writers’ concerns because their jobs are unstable and often months or even years apart. They need residuals to pay their bills and, most importantly, to pen the shows we all enjoy. But we also understand the entertainment industry’s dilemma in determining proper compensation for content providers when television viewership is in decline, and making money on Web content is difficult. Not only are ad rates typically reduced online, there is an expectation among viewers that everything they view should be free. This is one reason why the writers’ strike matters. All of us in the business of providing content in exchange for pay want to see how one of the region’s core industries determines what words are worth online. But we recognize that this isn’t just about creators and customers. Advertisers who want to get their messages to a targeted viewership may leave television for good or at least discover the advantages of targeting customers on the Web, one of the format’s true strengths since it is so easy to track online viewing behavior. We bet many advertisers are not going to want to spend their budgets on reruns, and that money will flow into other outlets, and possibly out of Southern California. That could hurt the regional economy. Bringing one of the state’s dominant industries to a standstill threatens more than just Hollywood. It threatens the region. Many cities are receiving a healthy share of TV and film production. This is one of the reasons the writers strike now going on at such locales as Raleigh Studios in Manhattan Beach and Sony Studios in Culver City matters so much. As Reuters reported Monday, the strike involving 12,000 screenwriters with the Writers Guild of America could cost the Los Angeles region $1 billion. center_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREStriving toward a more perfect me: Doug McIntyre last_img read more

Fractured SAG may split

first_imgThe largest union representing actors has promised a new, tougher stance in contract talks with powerful media conglomerates. But the Screen Actors Guild may self-destruct before it ever gets the chance. The labor union’s long-running infighting has escalated into what could become a mutiny after the election in September of SAG President Alan Rosenberg. Rosenberg and his allies gained a majority on the national board by pledging to squeeze more money from the studios from the sale of DVDs and new technologies, including downloading of films and TV shows. He also pledged to unite SAG’s feuding factions. Membership in the union is all but required to work in films, television and commercials. Many SAG members also belong to the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which has jurisdiction over the prime-time schedule of major networks, among other areas. Rosenberg’s agenda mirrors that of the newly elected president of the Writers Guild of America West. Patric Verrone also ran on a promise to get tougher with studios and also fired his executive director soon after taking office. Both men justified the firings by saying they needed staff who would push their agendas of increasing membership, fighting the rise of reality TV shows and gaining more economic concessions from studios. Rosenberg’s action deepened the geographic rift that already existed in the union. Actors outside Hollywood are not as reliant on residuals from DVDs and other technology and are less inclined to endure a lengthy, costly strike over the issue. Those actors also fear Los Angeles-based members, who control the guild because of their numbers, will abuse their power and push through an agenda that ignores the needs of actors in other regions. Rosenberg acknowledges that bridging these differences is his most pressing challenge. “You have people living in all different areas of the country who feel like they’re muzzled and don’t have a voice or are afraid they’re going to be muzzled,” he said. He has visited the New York and Miami branches in recent weeks and plans on visiting other locals in the hope of creating a more unified front for upcoming contract talks. Uniting the union will be critical for Rosenberg, who faces his first big test next year when SAG’s contract with advertising agencies expires. The guild’s pact with studios expires two years later. “If we don’t strengthen the core of our union, we’re going to be fighting a losing battle,” said Kathy Christopherson, a Los Angeles actress, writer and producer. In the latest sign of dissension, three SAG members last week asked the U.S. Department of Labor to void Rosenberg’s election, alleging illegal campaign tactics by Rosenberg’s Membership First party. Based on new, tough talk from SAG and the Writers Guild of America, media companies have developed contingency plans that would include stockpiling scripts and productions in anticipation of a strike. That move could lead to a “de facto” strike, similar to the one that led to an industry slowdown in 2001 that put thousands of entertainment industry employees out of work. Rosenberg’s election underscored dissatisfaction with last year’s contract talks, which won higher wages but failed to budge the studios on paying a bigger share of the lucrative DVD market. “I think we just walked away too soon and too easily without fighting,” Rosenberg said. “We sent a message of weakness.” Now, studios are also experimenting with new sources of revenue, offering TV shows on demand over the Web, without explaining how they intend to pay actors and writers. Rosenberg’s views, especially on the challenges of new technology, aren’t that different from those of Christie or others in the union. But guild members differ over whether they should strike to win concessions. “It’s not going to be the toughest guy at the table, it’s going to be the smartest guy at the table,” Christie said. Fighting over DVD revenue may be a waste of time, Christie said, as the industry looks at new ways to distribute content, including sending movies and TV shows to cell phones, iPods and other devices. “We’re having a fist fight over something that’s going to be a memory in a very short period of time,” he said. “What are the next three of four things beyond DVD? That’s what I want to deal with.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals Instead, Rosenberg, 55, divided the union even more by almost immediately firing popular SAG national executive director Greg Hessinger. He had been hired by the previous leadership, which Rosenberg accused of surrendering too easily on key economic issues in contract talks last year. Many union members see the firing as an arrogant display of power by Rosenberg that could finally split the union into two groups – one that represents film and TV actors, primarily based in Hollywood, and another mostly comprised of members in New York, Chicago and elsewhere who do commercials and voice-overs. Paul Christie, president of SAG’s New York branch, said talk of a split has heated up since the election of Rosenberg, who was a regular on the TV series “LA Law” and “The Guardian,” and is married to “CSI” star Marg Helgenberger. “I think he’s capable of better things,” Christie said. With 120,000 members, SAG has always been a fragmented labor union, representing both multimillionaire superstars and rank-and-file membership with an unemployment rate of more than 80 percent. last_img read more