Sunday, May 19, 2013

Book Review: TV on Strike

Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Syracuse University Press (January 31, 2013)

It's hard to believe that it has been just over 5 years since the end of the WGA strike against the AMPTP.  What Cynthia Littleton has done in looking back at the events that transpired from November 2007 to February 2008 is nothing short of amazing.

It's fascinating to see just how much has changed in the environment since that happened from a new media perspective alone. Both Netflix and Amazon have really changed the game for content distribution. Heavily serialized shows make syndicated reruns a harder sell then just a simple sitcom or crime drama.  If you look at what the networks have to offer, there are more serialized programs now than ever before.

Also, reruns aren't what they used to be. A lot of this has to do with what kind of ratings they get. Sitcom reruns fare better than that have a serial drama. Just look at a few weeks ago--a rerun of Big Bang Theory did better than the first half hour of American Idol. That said, networks feel that they don't get as much from advertisers during reruns so during the summers--which used to be chock full of reruns--they air unscripted programming or other original programming. Until a few years ago, there hadn't been much offered in terms of scripted programming in the summer on the broadcast networks as far as a first-run episode goes. Then ABC aired Rookie Blue and they now have a summer show to compete with the cable networks.

Hulu started a month after the strike ended and even then, because of the way that the guild contracts were written, anything that is viewed online in the first 6 weeks or so of an episode airing is considered as "promotional." Nobody but the distributor (network) sees a dime of profits off of those episodes being viewed. Sure, it is a legal way to watch shows as opposed to piracy but now I feel just as guilty since none of the people that worked hard are getting paid! With Hulu Plus, they monetized Hulu to where they are able to make money from consumers.

I also learned a new phrase from reading the book: satellite show. Most of these shows air on Friday nights as they have to plug holes on the schedule but otherwise, the network doesn't make much off of these shows. Other times, they are shows that follow an anchor program and would be the sitcom placed between the 8 PM and 9 PM sitcom. Some of these satellite shows are the news magazines or news shows that find their way into a prime time slot.

In the epilogue of the book, Littleton examines whether the strike was worth it in the long term by showing the numbers earned in residuals from new media.  But given how Netflix and Amazon have changed the game with instant streaming compared to the classic reruns airing in syndication, it was bound to have happened sooner rather than later.

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