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Given that the WGA writer's strike is only about a week old, it's too early to tell whether the scribes will be successful in achieving their main goal: securing what they consider to be their fair share of the digital video revenue pie from the networks and studios.
But the writers clearly understand the power of the Internet as a distribution medium and wasted little time in using it to their advantage, as illustrated by a short video clip put together by some of the union's strike captains. If you have trouble with the link, the url is unitedhollywood.blogspot.com.
The video features short interview clips of Disney's Bob Iger, News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch, Viacom's Sumner Redstone, CBS's Leslie Moonves and NBC's Ben Silverman talking about the opportunity that digital video provides for their companies.
In using the moguls' own words against them, the strike captains who created the video took advantage of an ambush tactic with a long tradition in journalism. The ambush is made easy by the fact that what top executives of public companies tell Wall Street investors is often very different than what they tell their own employees.
This inconsistency often leads to a familiar phenomenon: news stories about mass firings usually send a company's stock up, which is reported with a positive spin by the financial press, while the same set of facts can lead to a very different set of stories in the newspapers of towns whose workers and economy will be walloped by the layoffs.
Now, to a critique of the video. While it's easy to plan this kind of ambush, pulling it off isn't an automatic. Some of the individual comments made by the executives are far from damning, as when Murdoch tells Charlie Rose that the digital era will be one of opportunity, and Silverman talks about the strength of NBC's content. Yawn.
The closest we get to a smoking gun comes either from Iger, who provides Disney's digital revenue figure of $1.5 billion, or Redstone, who said his firm plans to double its digital revenue. Despite that weakness, however, the aggregate effect of the comments is enough to make the writers' case that the studios are expecting to cash in on digital video, and that they (the writers) deserve their fair share.
The most entertaining part of the video is provided by the writers themselves, via the sarcastic comments that appear as text between the clips.Given the cross-ownership of news and entertainment companies by the media conglomerates, we're not likely to see this type of video appear on the nightly news -- or even Saturday Night Live. But thanks to the Web, the writers won't need a network to spread their propaganda. That should help drive home the point to both sides about the potential the Internet has to upend the current model of video distribution.
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