Issue: The Hollywood writers strike may have unintended consequences
Commentary by: David Vinjamuri
This morning at 12:01 am, Hollywood writers went on strike for the first time since 1988. Most of the commentary around this strike has been focused on the earlier writers strike and its estimated $500mm cost to the industry.Â Media critics and stock analysts are wondering how great the revenue loss to the industry will be and what burdens any eventual deal with the writers will place on the industry.
Instead of looking to the 1988 writers strike for historical lessons, pundits should reach a year further back, to the 1987 NFL strike.Â In that strike, professional football players were replaced by scabs – mostly undrafted former college players willing to cross a picket line to be able to wear the uniform of an NFL team for a few weeks.Â Although the interval was short – after a few games, pros began crossing the picket line and the season was not lost – those few weeks were interesting.Â Fans saw a lower level of football, but also a lot of people playing for nothing more than passion.Â Although most of the scabs disappeared immediately with the return of the regular season, a few joined the big league.
Hollywood is far too unionized for this scenario to play out on in the writers room for The Tonight Show, Desperate Housewives or Heroes.Â But if the writers strike creates an extended dearth of new material on the big screen and televisions nationwide, new media may have its moment in the sun.Â Sites like YouTube have already shown that American consumers are willing to watch consumer-created media.Â If television content disappears – creating an extended summer break of sorts – the conditions might suddenly exist for a tipping point shift towards new media.
Hollywood knows that it has a lot to lose from the writers strike.Â But the real loss could be much larger than anyone imagines.Â When consumers become more expert at finding video on the web just as amateurs are getting better at delivering it, the advertising model behind network television, which depends heavily on the scale of the audience watching commercials, could vanish.Â Then Hollywood writers could return to work and find the stadiums empty, the fans gone.