We writers often kick ourselves when we don’t act on an article idea and someone else beats us to the punch. That said, today’s article in the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Striking writers in talks to launch web start-ups” re-states exactly what I have been telling my WGA-member wife and anyone else who will listen. Basically, it is time to look outside the tired studio system that has evolved around network television today and start exploring alternatives that allow writers to take some control over their own destiny once again.
It is easy to see now how the consolidation of studios and television networks has led to a de facto monopoly over entertainment in the US today. Studios own the productions which then air on their networks and are distributed by their corporations. This monopoly has led to a progressively lower and lower common denominator of quality in network shows. Despite a few shining highlights, television over the last 10 years has been a race to the bottom – with stupidity, ugliness and near-pornographic shows becoming the norm. America, fed a continuous diet of “more of the same” has become numb to any real choice in entertainment. Even with the coming of TiVo and other PVR’s, it matters little if you can time shift your entertainment when there is so little of worth to record.
One could say that this monopoly has been one important factor in the overall stagnation in the television and movie industry today. The studios have refused to change the way their do business despite falling revenues and fewer viewers being reported each quarter. Instead they desperately try to hold on to some remnants of their existing business model, praying that the Internet will just go away. As we have already seen with the music business, though, the Internet is not going away and will change the face of the entertainment business in a thousand different ways.
For the first time in history, the distribution stranglehold has been broken and creative workers – writers, directors, actors et al – need to exploit this new found freedom in whatever way possible. They need to win back the long-lost ability to be able to produce not only what they wish, but what their audience craves.
Furthermore, each article on the “new television” model takes pains to express doubt about the viability of this new model. It should be clear to everyone, though, that there is certain inevitability about the coming changes to the entertainment industry. It is not a question of whether or not the changes will occur, but only a matter of when and how.
In the early days of the Internet, there was a saying that outlined its robustness and flexibility, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” Replace the word censorship with monopoly, greed or unilateral control and the quote shows its true power. Let’s all “route around” the current studio system and develop a new entertainment industry to serve us better in the 21st Century.