Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Man the Geek Barricades: Hollywood’s Digital Strike


The talks between Hollywood studios and the Writers Guild of America ground to a halt as of last night and a strike could happen anytime, since the contract between them expired at midnight.

The big problem? Digital issues, which are sure to be an increasingly vexing issue for the entertainment industry, as more and more content moves or is even born online.

At issue are low-ball DVD residuals that writers also fear will be replicated in the digital arena, such as Internet downloads. They also want a piece of the online video ad market, which is still in its formative stages.

In a statement, the Writers Guild noted: “Every issue that matters to writers, including Internet reuse, original writing for new media, DVDs and jurisdiction, has been ignored.”

Studios, repped by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, argue that the nascent digital entertainment industry, which so far is paltry in comparison to other distribution methods, needs time to breath before being pummeled by higher costs.

What NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker said the other day, referring in this case to its not-so-lucrative deal with Apple’s iTunes (only $15 million in video revenue in a year), is perhaps apt: “We don’t want to replace the dollars we were making in the analog world with pennies on the digital side.”

Except that might actually be the case for a while until Hollywood figures out a low-cost, high-standard way of producing for the digital medium. Instead, the industry is beset by piracy (which, sad to say, works well) and ever-higher production costs it seems unable to control.

In the new paradigm, one might assume that the creators of content–i.e., the writers–would have more power, as the proliferation of distribution platforms of all kinds continues.

No longer under the stranglehold of clueless and most definitely overpaid studio hacks, oops, executives, one might imagine a future where the creator and the distributor are one and the same.

Well, not yet, as creators still remain largely overpaid minions to the Hollywood machine, held in place by a system that seems sure to fall apart just as soon as a Google of the entertainment industry is created.

That is, a method for paying these creators and also for the production of content that rivals the current and obviously broken way it is now done.

Many years ago, writer Herman Mankiewicz wrote to Ben Hecht about Hollywood: “Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around.”

That moment can’t come too soon for digital Hollywood.