Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Writers Strike Ignores Devastating Consequences of Continued Impasse

photo courtesy of Boston.com
Film and television writers and studio bigwigs continue their game of chicken on the picket lines. Variety and late night talk shows, Saturday Night Live, the Daily Show, and the Tonight Show have already ceased production. The popular TV show, 24 recently declared an indefinite hiatus. Soon, crown jewels such as Two and a Half Men and Desperate Housewives will grind to an excruciating halt.

It comes as no surprise that money lies at the heart of this dispute. Writers want more for distribution of their material through the Internet and mobile broadcasting. Producers would rather wait and see how much revenue is generated. Sadly, both sides are missing the big picture.

The viewing public is fickle. One day, a celebrity is a rising star. The following year, washed up. Fans change allegiances like clothing and hairstyles. Everything today is disposable.

The movie and television industry would be wise to heed the fickle nature of its lifeblood. Each passing day of impasse draws the industry closer to demise. By way of explanation, take a look at the following hypothetical breakdown of television and movie viewers:

a. The Mindless
People who rely upon television to unwind and/or escape. They will generally continue watching no matter what type of shows are available. Although easily influenced, not a good group for advertisers because they have little disposable income. More likely to rent or have cable than to watch movies in theatres.

b. The Distracted
Channel flippers who land on programs of interest, they are just as likely to tune in as tune out. Television is used as background noise for multi-tasking or a brief respite between tasks. A good group for advertisers, but difficult to capture. Prefer to see movies in theatres, but frequency of attendance varies.

c. The Obsessed
Fans of the highest order who schedule activities around certain television programs, TiVo, on demand, etc. Can be influenced by product endorsement, but wide disparity in disposable income. Spend heavily on DVD rentals and purchases, as well as first run movies in theatres.

d. The Engaged
Destination television and movie watchers. Tend to be intellectual movers and shakers or those with active busy lives focusing on activities other than movies and television. Viewing is pre-planned for shows of interest. Extremely busy schedules and high level of disposable income make this set an advertising dream.

Of course, other categories and subsets may exist. Additionally, the foregoing categories are based upon unproven generalizations. Still, I believe the breakdown is illustrative.

The Engaged and Distracted will tune out quickly, if they haven’t already. The longer the strike continues, the less likely these viewers will return to old habits when it ends. Such was the case to some extent when the industry went on strike back in 1988. At that time, however, free entertainment on the Internet was not widely available. Millions of viewers now flock to independent video productions and cyber networks. Serious advertising dollars are beginning to follow. Revenue generated from the Engaged and Distracted will begin to flow elsewhere.

The movie and television industry is crazy to risk losing all this advertising revenue. That’s why continued impasse is a descent into madness.

The Mindless, of course, will remain loyal viewing subjects, but with little disposable income, their future behavior is inconsequential. That leaves the television and movie industry with two real choices: (1) find a mutually agreeable way to quickly end the strike; or (2) bank on the Obsessed to stay viable.

Is there another alternative that will help this industry emerge unscathed? If so, speak out. Your opinion could help an industry hell bent on killing itself in the name of greed.

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