12/17/2007

Signal to Noise: Strike, Week Six

This post is reprinted from the blog of WGA member Isaac Ho.

Week six of the writers strike has concluded and I have some thoughts.

Next week the force majeur blood letting will begin. Most talent deals allow six weeks of suspended services due to an act of God before they can be terminated without penalty. I’ve always viewed this as the first of the unfortunate milestones the studios would let pass before any serious negotiations could begin.

I’m guessing that the next milestone would be the results of the February 2008 sweeps. By then, scripted shows will be gone and reality shows will be in heavy rotation. The third milestone will be if and when negotiations begin between the DGA and the AMPTP and we finally get a peek at the DGA’s demands and resolve.

NBC has quietly begun refunding television advertisers for underperforming in the ratings. What’s sad is that this fall season was supposed to be their ‘make goods’ from last year’s underperforming season. One can only guess where NBC’s ratings will go come January when they run out of scripted shows.

Viacom seriously needs its right hand to tell the left hand who it’s doing. While MTV Network freelancers (aka ‘permalancers’) walked off the job to protest anticipated cutbacks to their already meager benefits, Viacom reupped CBS CEO Leslie Moonves with a new contract that includes performance bonuses that would yield $30 million at the low end.

Not all multinational congloms are created equally. CBS is possibly the least vertically integrated of the congloms and most vulnerable to being gobbled up by Sony or Time Warner should there be a precipitous drop in its stock price.

In addition, what would be the fate of the nearly 400 production companies repped by the AMPTP who don’t have the deep pockets of congloms?

Peter Chernin, President of News Corp (Fox’s parent company) bragged during an earnings call with analysts:
Calling the strike “probably a positive” for the company, Chernin added: “We save more money in term deals and, you know, story costs and probably the lack of making pilots than we lose in potential advertising.”
Fox has only 15 hours of prime time to fill per week while ABC, CBS and NBC have to fill 22 hours. Come January, Fox plans to air four hours per week of ratings juggernaut ‘American Idol.’ No word what their competitors will serve up in its path but chances are that the counter programming will be little more than sacrificial lambs.

Why Hollywood is like Washington, DC
No one paid any attention to GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee when he was polling around 2%. Now that his support has grown to 21% (putting him only 1% behind front runner Rudy Giuliani) he is everyone’s favorite target.

Likewise, the AMPTP has criticized WGA’s themed pickets and rallies as mere ‘frivolity.’ It only recently began doing so because the pickets have been effective in swaying public opinion toward the WGA by putting a face to the people responsible for writing your favorite TV and film characters. Quite possibly, it may even have put pressure on the AMPTP’s uneasy alliance.

The AMPTP’s fear of the writers’ resolve has led them to attack WGA leadership hoping to divide the membership and undermine this unity. Should the writers cut back their themed pickets and rallies while openly criticizing their leadership, then the WGA’s own rank and file will have been tricked into doing the AMPTP’s job.

What is the AMPTP’s job right now? To weaken the WGA’s bargaining position as much as possible by fostering internal conflict to expose WGA’s ultimate bottom line.

If the WGA is forced to give away all its bargaining chips before the commencement of negotiations, then it will have no where to go but down once the AMPTP is finally ready to negotiate.

What’s tragic about the AMPTP’s refusal to negotiate is that while the increased package the WGA is asking for totals $151 million over three years, a prolonged strike could cost ABC, CBS and Fox $100 million each.

You have to wonder what the AMPTP is truly afraid of when this strike can be settled, literally, with pennies.

7 comments:

Geo Rule said...

Regarding "bottom lines", it's always occurred to me that if this is a 3, 4, 5 (whatever) year deal, then one way of addressing *part* of AMPTP's concerns re New Media is having some of those provisions WGA is requesting NOT kick in on day one. They could take effect in the second year or third year even.

But then, of course, there are all kind of acceptable solutions that can be reached when reasonable people sit down and negotiate in good faith, aren't there? That AMPTP is unwilling to do so speaks volumes that their ultimate goal here is another 20 year screwing of writers. After all, they have such a high standard to live up to from the last 20 year screwing of writers in a technology shift.

ChuckT said...

"You have to wonder what the AMPTP is truly afraid of when this strike can be settled, literally, with pennies."

The SAME THING the writers are afraid of only they have FAR MORE TO LOSE so the ferocity with which they're fighting is in direct proportion to how much THEY have on the table (monetarily and in terms of having to define a new business so that they survive it). How can writers be so naive as to think that the AMPTP wants them to THRIVE in new media. The writers (with the exception of downloaded tv shows and movies) have literally NO PRESCENCE ON THE INTERNET. The studios and producers have been investing in the internet by moving assets there and trying to come up with viable business models for over a year. The writers have not (and that is a FACT). So what makes you think the producers feel they NEED you when your own efforts in investing in your precenese on the internet has been NON EXISTENT. You don't deserve the pot of gold at the end of the New Media rainbow because you're not absorbing ANY of the damn risk (a monkey can understand that). They still OWN YOU. And all you're asking for is that they OWN YOU A LITTLE LESS. It's pathetic.

The AMPTP wants to divide and destroy the WGA. They could care less whether one or all of you live one minute or drops dead the next.

Find your own bliss on the internet by investing in it YOURSELVES and stop begging to be screwed with a longer dildo than the ones the producers gave you in the last contract. Jesus, have you all learned NOTHING since 1988?

Not-A-Troll said...

Merry Force Majeure!!!!

Evan Waters said...

"Calling the strike “probably a positive” for the company, Chernin added: “We save more money in term deals and, you know, story costs and probably the lack of making pilots than we lose in potential advertising.” "

This is like an auto maker claiming a UAW strike is good for them because what they lose in sales they make up for in not having to manufacture anything.

I have to admit, in theory, not being in business is a good way to avoid business expenses. (Excluding property taxes and maintenance costs and... well, it's a nice idea.)

hollarback said...

Chuckt, Are you trying to send messages with your RANDOM emphasis all caps? Using CAPS tends to make me skip over the whole enry...which might be a good thing.

They will need to pay the people who create their product sooner or later. One cannot stall forever. Media, schmedia, you need content no matter what the delivery system. Which brings us back to fair treatment and compensation for the workers who create that content.

Only 8 more days till Christmas and I still haven't bought a single DVD, AMPTP. As soon as you give the WGA a fair contract I will be a happy consumer again. But not until then. I want you to share the money you get from me with the people who write the dang things.

Dave said...

evan waters wrote:

"This is like an auto maker claiming a UAW strike is good for them because what they lose in sales they make up for in not having to manufacture anything."

Evan, the difference is that Ford can't resell the same car, while the networks can play repeats of previous shows. They won't get as much ad revenue, but they'll get some. That, combined with the savings from not producing shows, is what allows them to ride out the strike. This is especially true because all networks are in the same boat, meaning there is no market pressure to produce new material when all the competitors are facing the same lack of material that they are. With that being the case, the ratings will largely follow the same patterns as when they were new shows, with just decreased overall viewership. Once American Idol comes back on, it will suck up a lot of viewers, but frankly it did that when it was up against new material so it won't be that big of a shock.

ChuckT said...

"hollarback said...

Chuckt, Are you trying to send messages with your RANDOM emphasis all caps? Using CAPS tends to make me skip over the whole enry...which might be a good thing."
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

hollarback, it's called "emphasis" and the emphasis is on the word being capped (as you would italicize or underline for emphasis). And if you look at other people's posts, you'll see the same thing. Quite common hollarback. I can't believe I have to explain "emphasis on a word" to you... a WRITER.

And while you claim seeing all caps in my entries make you want to skip over my post, the fact of the matter is you DON'T and, further, you even respond to my entries.