Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Brave New World

The biggest thing to come out of the Hollywood writer’s strike isn’t going to be a settlement. Not that a settlement is chopped liver, it is a necessity and needs to happen as quickly as possible. But, something “bigger” and more profound is emerging from the clash of the multi-millionaire vs. the millionaire titans (let’s face it, that’s who’s really dukeing it out) of the WGA and the AMPTP: new media-mania. Yes, everyone has gone Internet crazy and a revolution that was slouching toward Hollywood has finally broken into a full gallop, foaming at the mouth.

The move to Internet TV has been evolving for a number of years. IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) the video equivalent to voiceover IP (Skype) is still slowly emerging, though not quite there. Numerous standalone companies are offering network streamed shows (Joost, Live-TV-Net.com, all the networks themselves). And streaming movies are an actual profit center for some companies (Amazon, Netflix, and soon iTunes), and old news in the “new media world.” But, the promise of Internet streamed, original, broadcast-quality programming developed by writers and distributed through social networking sites like MySpace and YouTube was a distant dream for writers and producers, prior to the strike. People knew the potential was there, but while the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak, and few had the courage to go it alone and break new ground. It was easier to just let somebody else do it, and keep working that housekeeping deal at the studio or network. Better the devil you know, etc.

Until November 17th, 2007, that is. With much ballyhoo and anticipation (and some consternation) the Internet’s first broadcast quality TV series, Quarterlife, debuted on MySpace.com. The show went up right at the beginning of the writer’s strike and if you don’t think lots of people started seeing Internet stars in their eyes, think again. Writers, producers, show runners (writer/producers who get TV shows setup at the networks) started chomping at the bit wondering, “How can I do that?” And, “Can I make any money doing that?” Well, the jury is kind of out on the profitability of Quarterlife—not looking good—but it’s only the first try, and a successful business model is only a matter of time. Profitable or not, the toothpaste was out of the tube, the genie was out of the bottle, the fat lady had sung—pick your metaphor, it was a brave new world.

But, those conservative Nellie’s too skittish to jump into the deep end, willing only to wait and see, are finding themselves choking on the dust of the mad dash by more courageous hearts who are now (as I write) storming the doors of Silicon Valley’s venture capital community, business plans in hand, beating the bushes for startup money for Internet TV development companies. And—they’re getting those deals. At least eight deals were inked to form new companies before mid-January 2008, and it seems more are announced every day.

It reminds me of the beginning of the dot com boom; investors willing to throw money at any Tom, Dick, or Jane who could demonstrate some capacity of jumping through their financial hoops and who had “the next big thing.” Well, now, lots of very talented and savvy entertainment folks are wading into the deep end, and while many will drown, because they don’t know how to avoid the rip tides of Silicon Valley, many will succeed and forge a new model for creative success on the World Wide Web.

So, why am I giving this little history lesson and diatribe, because it is a brave new world, and there ‘aint nothin’ Orwellian about it. If you are a writer you should be excited as hell about where this is going. If you are a producer, you should be excited as hell about where this is going, And if you are a studio or network (which I’m sure all of you are—not) you too should be excited as hell, because I think this can be win-win for everybody; especially us writers.

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