Monday, November 26, 2007

Will WGA Strike be the Knockout Blow to the TV Networks?

We’re in week 3 of the writers’ strike. The big news is that the two sides have agreed to return to the bargaining table this week to try and reach an agreement. As a consumer, you may not have felt an impact yet. It will still be a couple of weeks before you realize that your favorite shows are only airing repeats. Grey’s Anatomy has 2 episodes left to air and will make it to mid-December. Can’t wait for the return of 24? Sorry, that won’t be premiering in January as scheduled. If The Office is your favorite, you’re already done. No new episodes will be coming your way for a while. Like Lost? Who needs 16 – 20 episodes? They have eight in the can. After that … Hey, there’s always American Idol. God help us.

As a professional, if you haven’t felt the impact already you will soon, very soon. NBC doesn’t have a single spot for sale for the next four months. Once the repeats start, ratings will tank (further) and your clients’ schedule will start under delivering (more than it normally does). You’ll have no place to run your ADUs. The term “cash back” is going to apply to more than that credit card offer in your mailbox. If you sat out the upfront and were planning on getting what you need in scatter, you’re going to need to make other plans.

A brief recap in case you haven’t been paying attention: The writers want to get paid residuals whenever their content airs on DVD or online. The studios don’t want to pay them for these re-airs. It’s pretty much that simple. This video explains the writers’ position.

Granted, it’s from the writers’ perspective. But you know what? I’m buying. The studios are being greedy. And guess who has the most to lose? The TV networks. Ratings have been declining for quite some time and this will make it worse. The networks risk losing more of their audience to other forms of entertainment. Conventional wisdom says that it’s tougher to get a viewer back than it is to keep him. The networks can’t afford to be losing any more viewers these days. The writers should be in the driver’s seat. But how long can they hold out? It’s truly David vs. Goliath here.

But if we’ve learned anything in recent years, it’s that TV is resilient. It’s less about the audience that is being delivered and more about supply and demand. En masse, advertisers haven’t abandoned ship yet. Sure, we grumble about price increases and audience decreases, but not many of us have backed that up with our clients’ pocketbooks.

Will this be the death blow for the TV Networks? Probably not. But it will surely exacerbate their problems. The studios need to realize this and pay the writers.

People are attracted to good, quality content whether it’s on the network, on-line, or in-book. When the writers come back and the content comes back, the viewers will come back. At least some of them will. Won't they?