Archive for the ‘Labor’ category

Has the Writers’ Strike Been Settled Already?

11-26-07

After a relaxing holiday weekend, today is the day the Writers Guild of American and the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers are supposed to resume negotiations.

Nikke Finke, the showbiz industry blogger who has led coverage of this story since before the strike began — tripling her page views to 1 million per day, according to the NY Times — today claims “there appears to be a deal seemingly in place between both sides” according to “a very reliable source.”

“It’s already done, basically,” the insider describes. That’s because of the weeks worth of groundwork by the Hollywood agents working the writers guild leadership on one side, and the studio and network moguls on the other. I was told not to expect an agreement this week. But my source thought it was possible that the strike could be settled before Christmas.

Finke is nervous about this story, though. She adds a caution that “this is Hollywood — where defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory every time.”

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Will the Writers’ Strike Make Hollywood More Like Silicon Valley?

11-13-07

Legendary tech entrepreneur Marc Andreessen explains that the Silicon Valley way of creating businesses might be what its polar opposite, the entertainment industry, might turn into as a result of the WGA strike; and of the underlying issue behind the strike, the convergence of scripted movie and TV entertainment with the Internet.

The whole, very long piece is worth reading, but here’s the nut of it:

What would a new entertainment media company, producing original content, look like in the age of the Internet?

  • Starting from the end of the process: you know distribution is now nearly free. Put it up on the Internet and let people stream or download it.
  • Marketing is also free, due to virality. Let people email your content to their friends; let people embed your content in their blogs and on their social networking pages; let your content be searchable via Google; let your content be easily surfaced using social crawlers like Digg. All free.
  • Production is very cheap. Handheld high-definition video cameras cost nearly nothing. You can do almost every aspect of production and post-production on any Mac. Hell, you can even score an entire movie for free — there are hundreds of thousands of bands on the Internet who would love to have their music embedded in a new entertainment property as promotion for the bands’ concerts and merchandise.
  • The creators of the content are the owners of the company. The writers, actors, directors — they are the owners. They have a direct, equity-based economic stake in the company’s success. They get paid like owners, and they act like owners.
  • Financing is straightforward: venture capital, just like a high-tech startup. We live in a world in which financing a high-quality startup is simply not difficult — not for a high-quality technology startup, and increasingly not for a high-quality media startup. Modern financiers love being co-owners of a new company with the talent that will make the company successful — and that’s how it will happen here.

This is not a difficult thing to envision. And in fact, it’s already happening. Will Ferrell’s Funny Or Die, in which I am a minority investor, is one early existence proof of this model. And there are a ton of other such new companies either already underway, or currently being incubated, or currently being negotiated.

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The Roots of Anti-Free Trade

11-07-07

The National Association of Manufacturers blogger Carter Wood thinks he knows why free trade has become a dirty word in the political world:

The rise of anti-trade sentiment is a complex one, but certainly electoral politics play a key role. Organized labor’s place in the economy has slipped dramatically as membership numbers fall (7.4 percent of private sector workforce is unionized) and global competition and technology place a premium on flexibility and adaptability — not labor’s strengths. But labor still wields tremendous political influence through organization and its millions of dollars in campaign spending. With many Democrats frustrated at being out of power in Congress for a decade, the organizational and financial support of labor (as well as anti-war “netroots” and leftwing activists) became irresistible. And labor has just a few demands.

How are cool economic arguments about the benefits of trade, no matter how persuasive AND empirical, supposed to overcome that bald political self-interest?

Chicken/egg, we know. Which came first, the unpopularity of trade or the rising political influence of anti-trade forces? After reading economist Bryan Caplan’s “Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies” we’re inclined to think the former — that with an anti-market, anti-foreign bias, voters tend to oppose trade. It takes hard work by advocates and political leaders to overcome that bias, to win the arguments on behalf of prosperity and trade. And when the leaders bail out because of electoral self-interest, the work becomes even harder.

So: A mix of deeply-rooted nativism with interest-group politics. Although, as he implies, organized labor’s opposition to free trade might, itself, be rooted in nativism and not a sharp-pencil calculation of labor’s self-interest.

Who was the last political leader successfully to “overcome that bias, to win the arguments on behalf of prosperity and trade?” Click the video below for a brief journey in the Wayback Machine:

Following Up the Writers’ Strike: The Back Channel

11-07-07

On the last day before the Writers Guild of America went on strike, two of the most powerful entertainment executives offered a deal through a back channel. If the WGA stopped demanding DVD residuals, the producers would improve the residual formula applied to Internet downloads of movies and TV shows, according to Nikke Finke’s closely-watched blog, Deadline Hollywood Daily. The WGA instructed its negotiators to take the DVD issue off the table, and waited for the producers’ negotiators to take the promised answering step.

It never happened. And the writers now feel the executives, News Corp. CEO Peter Chernin and CBS President Les Moonves, “deliberately duped” them, Finke reports.

As a spitting mad WGA leader put it to me today: “All I can say is, if someone calls me and says, “You do X, and I do Y” and that someone doesn’t do it, then I’ve been lied to and I’ve been played. It’s a complete betrayal. I just don’t know what the studios’ game is.”

Finke’s post tick-tocks the final day of negotiations until

Finally, a little before 9 PM Pacific time just before the strike was to start at 12:01 AM Eastern time, “the producers came back to us with an answer to our DVD. It was all very calculated,” a WGA leader told me. “They said, ‘We are not going to make any concessions on the Internet. We stand by our former position that you will get the DVD formula on digital downloads. And we would like to ask if you guys would suspend the strike starting at midnight in the East. Are the pickets starting?’ [The producers confirmed to me they didn’t move off their electronic sell-through position to answer the WGA’s taking DVDs off the tables Sunday. “There wasn’t enough time!” one of their insiders claimed to me.]

“We told them what we’d said right at the beginning of the day’s discussion — that we had to see progress for the strike not to start. They said, ‘Well, that’s it, we’re walking out. Goodbye and good luck.’ Our guys shouldn’t have been shocked but they were shocked. They weren’t ready for the game that was being played. We had made every effort, thinking that if the other side sees you’re serious… and we were shaken that the promise to us had been broken.”

Finke says the two sides are now farther apart than ever, with mutual mistrust so high it might take months for the bargaining to resume.

Finke’s site is the one to monitor for the most up-to-date coverage from the reporter reputed to have the best sources.

(The Writers Mumble Inaudibly)

11-06-07

The Writers Guild of America‘s spokespersons are “potentially hurting their cause by being so slow to explain their side to the media,” according to Daily Variety, the showbiz trade publication.

The writers are “in danger of getting swift-boated,” the unsigned essay states — alluding to 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry’s refusal to defend himself against attacks on his integrity by a group of Vietnam veterans.

At CBS Television City Monday, a Writers Guild strike official shooed away a reporter who was trying to talk to a picket. The scriptwriter later admitted he was scolded for talking with the press.

Another reporter asked a question of a picket, who growled, “We’re not talking to you guys.”

Writers like to write. Apparently they don’t like to communicate, except for star writers who disregarded the instructions and talked anyway.

During the entire pact talks, the producers have shown a well-organized attempt to convey their point of view. But the Writers Guild of America reps are potentially hurting their cause by being so slow to explain their side to the media.

Many in showbiz don’t have a clear understanding of the writers’ demands or the reasoning behind these demands. And so far, the WGA leaders are not helping enough to get the message across.

The Wall Street Journal’s coverage also implicitly questions the guild’s “bold gambit.” (more…)