Tuesday, February 12, 2008


The writer's strike is coming to an end and once again, it looks like the losers will be...both sides!

You know, a few years ago here, we had a supermarket strike. It was lengthy. And if you were the sort of person who shopped at the supers (I wasn't), you had to cross a picket line to do your shopping. Regardless of what side you might be on, a picket line puts you in the middle of a group of strangers' conflict.

Predictably, people were driven to other stores. (That is the point, after all.) But as the weeks--and then months--wore on, people found out that these other stores, why, they were actually better than the stores they were used to shopping at. For example, Trader Joe's is generally cheaper, less tricksy, more interesting, and better staffed than a supermarket. Gelson's has pricier high-quality stuff, but isn't actually as expensive as it's reputation would suggest, as long as you stay away from the high-priced European imports. And you never wait in line long there.

And, as I predicted at the time--as someone who has long hated the big supermarket chains--people would find it hard to go back to these stores. Four years later, those stores are still not recovered from what I can see. Trader Joe's can't open up stores fast enough.

When this writer's strike started, I predicted a similar thing happening to the big nets. It's the weekly demand for shows that makes the writers' strike so effective, but the upshot would have to be that people would be driven to other forms of entertainment. Once driven away--and current ratings suggest the damage has been real and substantial--people won't come back. Not all of them.

The whole system needs revamping, of course. It's archaic to demand that people organize their lives around pre-recorded video programming, to watch it on your terms. And when you have a delivery system as big as the planet, one has to wonder about the merits of using an intermediary at all. Because that's what the nets are: intermediaries.

And in the case of cable, satellite dish, and so on, even more so. HBO makes a hit show like "The Sopranos" but if you want to watch it you have to incur all these other expenses. (Cable or dish, with installation, basic service and some kind of descrambler box.) Why can't a person just go directly to HBO, Showtime, the BBC, etc., and just get what they want directly?

Of course, this, in turn, negates cable channels as movie distributors: Why go to HBO when you can go to its source, Time-Warner, instead. The incestuous nature of these companies is probably a big culprit in delaying the technology.

So, for the consumer, the strike is probably a good thing, though not in the way the writers intend. But by accelerating the decline of traditional distribution channels and methods, they will eventually force the development of new channels to make up for it.


  1. that's sort of the way the BBC is going. at the moment if you live the UK, you can download most of the days TV at any point over the next seven days. You can't get everything due to the rights issues, eg sports. Once it's downloaded, you've got 4 weeks to watch it, then it self destructs. After you've watched it, I think you've got a week, then it self destructs. One of the commercial channels does the same.

  2. Hey, Colin:

    Yeah, I was thinking a lot about the BBC. But is their situation somewhat special, given that their programmes are funded with tax dollars? Or, if not special exactly, not exactly the same as American corporations.

    I think the self-destruct "feature" is going to have to go away, though.

  3. yeah, the BBC is funded through the tax system (sort of). Not dollars though, that's just you lot.
    C4 however is funded through advertising, same as your channels, and they have started doing it, again not with everything because of some rights issues.
    the self destruct thing is to try and stop people saving the episodes indefinitely rather than paying for the DVD when it comes out.

  4. I could've said "tax pounds" but it sounds like something they'd do at a fat camp.


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