Saturday, November 17

Speeding Messages: Fans4Writers

Most people already know that the Writers Guild of America, West, (WGAW), and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) have mutually agreed to resume negotiations on Monday, Nov. 26. While Patric Verrone, president of WGAW, cautioned that returning to the bargaining table is only a start, it seems unlikely this strike will eclipse the five-month strike that occurred in 1988.

Why? The Internet, of course.

No, not because of the impending mass exodus of viewers to the Web as The Wall Street Journal might suggest to some. Forbes seems to have captured the better picture on this concept, noting that Americans tuned in to television programming more than eight hours a day last year, a record high unchanged from the previous year.

Network ratings aren’t down because people watch less television. They are down because viewers have more control over their entertainment options. Simply put, if viewers do not like what is on the major networks, there are hundreds of other channels to choose from. And, if they don’t like any of those programs, there is always the DVR list, stocked full of saved programs.

Convergence will work in other ways, but it won’t mean the death of television, only a transformation of how we see it today. Most of it will be for the better.

Why? The Internet, of course.

Passive viewers have become active consumers. And these consumers connect, organize, and take action on (and off) the Internet. Let’s take a look.

Fans4Writers, which was started by Joss Whedon (Firefly and Buffy The Vampire Slayer) fans, quickly opened to other veteran fan groups, including well-organized Jericho and Veronica Mars fans. This created a near immediate communication stream, first between all fan groups, and then between fans and writers.

It works something like this: striking writer captains upload a message on the Internet, like sending pencils to “media moguls.” This information is rapidly picked up by Fans4Writers. Unofficial representatives of various fan groups quickly relay this information to their centralized forums, which is then taken up by individual fans. The communication stream takes a few hours, maybe minutes.

In contrast, the networks are mostly communicating their case through the AMPTP, which posted its defense online and then attempted to communicate its message through mainstream media, primarily print (because network coverage of a writers strike doesn’t resonate). These messages are then filtered by journalists, some of whom are more sympathetic to the writers, who make better interviews anyway. It might take a day or days for the communication to reach the public, and there is no guarantee the message will survive. In fact, it often doesn’t.

Why? The Internet, of course.

So, there is a good chance the Internet, which caused much of the contract conflict, will likely also be the reason this strike will be short. After all, networks and studios tend to have a neutral or even adversarial relationship with their customers whereas producers and writers are becoming increasingly engaged with them.

When you think about it, this creates a significant brand shift. When today’s viewers think Jericho, they think Carole Barbee and Dan Shotz (some even think Steingberg, Chbosky, and Schaer), before CBS. When they think Firefly, they know Joss Whedon. When they think Veronica Mars, it’s Rob Thomas.

It used to be only a few creators were so well connected with fans; nowadays, it’s everybody. No wonder only 6 percent of the public support the executives and 72 percent support the writers. For fans, the brand disparity seems apparent: writers create the shows they love and the networks decide if they’ll be allowed to watch them.



Sweet Tea on 11/17/07, 2:50 PM said...

The networks should take a hint.
Great post. Thanks Rich.

Rich on 11/17/07, 3:19 PM said...

Thanks Jane,

I noticed after I posted that you had a solid post on Fans4Writers as well. That can be found here.

One thing about Jericho fans, I've been told by my friends at, is that they have found renewed solitary by supporting the writers in the strike. I think that's great. Participation is engagement and engagement means vesting in others, who will in turn be more likely to watch Jericho when it returns.

The same can be said for many fan groups.

I didn't include it in the post, but one thing I've noted because of the Internet, I've been introduced to several shows that I never really watched before.

Jericho, of course, we all know my family watched.
But because of fan groups, I have watched several Firefly episodes (which now I'm disappointed knowing I only have five left) and a couple Veronica Mars episodes (Season 3, but only because of availability on iTunes). In fact, VM saved my butt at the DMV on Thurs. It made the four hour wait breeze by... and so I learned, it was a good show.

My point is that if fan groups could convince me to give their shows a chance, I know that Jericho fans can convince other to give it a chance as well.

You never know. Often, we make our choices on so many factors other than the quality of the programming. That too is something networks need to know.

DVRs are good things. And, given that CBS recently reported $350 million in profits, I see that DVRs and Internet aren't hurting them as much as they report around their quarterlies.

All my best,

Unknown on 11/25/07, 9:44 PM said...

Another great article Rich!

As a fan of Jericho and several other television shows, I was pretty shocked to learn of the reasons for the strike. They are getting a very raw deal, and I'm totally behind them.

I'm content to wait as long as it takes. As a writer, and artist, I know how hard it is to come up with something that really works. Not every effort ends in a success, and without good writing, the television landscape would be pretty dull. Can you say more relaity TV and gameshows?

Here's a piece I did to express my own reflections on the Jericho writing team:


Rich on 11/26/07, 5:25 PM said...

Rubber Poultry,

I can thankfully say the same. Another great video; very artfully expressed around the show.



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