While network and studio execs bristle at the thought of a strike, a work stoppage would only fuel the rapid rise of online media.
That was the warning sounded by former Fox Interactive Media prexy Ross Levinsohn, who told the audience gathered Tuesday at the Hollywood Radio and TV Society’s “State of the Industry” luncheon that a strike would “open the window a little more” for Internet creators to steal away auds from the traditional media.
“The only place where a strike is good is the interactive business,” Levinsohn said. “The ability to create and distribute programming across the Internet and mobile is as simple as point-and-shoot.”
In the age of a million creators posting content to sites like YouTube, “there may not be a need for hundreds of (television) shows,” he said.
But NBC Entertainment/Universal Media Studios co-chairman Marc Graboff said later that he wasn’t as concerned about online video cutting deep into TV series viewing – yet.
“There are so many cats flushing a toilet that you can watch,” he quipped.
“Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf, who moderated the panel, opened the session by stressing that a strike might serve a “killing blow” to an already ailing TV industry.
“Everyone in this room is concerned,” he said. “How do we get past a perfect storm that’s brewing?”
20th Century Fox TV chairman Gary Newman repeated the options the producers are setting forth to the guilds: If they want certain residual structures revisited, than everything’s on the table; otherwise, the two sides can negotiate a short-cut deal in which they continue to work with the existing contract.
“Hopefully one way or another we get this resolved,” Newman said.
Newman also addressed the statement released by Writers Guild chair John Bowman, who said that “according to studio analysis, ‘The Simpsons’ doesn’t turn a net profit.” (Bowman was criticizing the congloms for pleading poverty while posting profits.)
Newman said the studio had never denied that “The Simpsons” was profitable.
“Ask any profit participant on that show, we’ve paid enormous amounts of profits on that program,” Newman said.
Also on the panel, Broadcasting & Cable editor J. Max Robins said he believed a strike was inevitable, while Discovery Communications prexy/CEO David Zaslav noted that the bigger challenge for him was adjusting to how people consume content.
For starters, Zaslav questioned “the economics of putting content on new media platforms.
“If we get a check, it’s tiny,” he said. “Do we devalue the content entirely?”
In the case of “Newco” – the untitled content sharing service being launched by NBC U and News Corp. – Newman said two models will be enacted, one for new shows, and another for successful shows. New series will be uploaded to every outlet possible.
“But once it gets to the point where the show is solid, we may restrict access,” he said.
Wolf recounted the “horrifying moment” he discovered that not only does his 14-year-old son not watch network TV, but none of his son’s classmates do either.
“At the end of the day, are we eating our young?” he asked.
Responded Newman: “There’s no going back… We have to be cautious and thoughtful to make sure there’s still an opportunity for networks, studios and producers to get the compensation they’re looking for and need to make programming.”
Panel co-chair Jordan Levin opened the lunch by showcasing Apple’s famed “1984” commercial to illustrate how far the industry had come (and how much the ad’s Big Brother character looks like today’s Rupert Murdoch).