Striking writers use Web to fight back

(Note: This is cross-posted from my Globe and Mail blog)

“Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel,” Mark Twain reportedly said, by which he presumably meant that one should think twice before making a writer or journalist mad. In Hollywood, the writers who create most of our TV shows and movies (and yes, I’m including Canada in that) are definitely mad, and they are showing it by doing what they do best: writing.

Some are writing opinion pieces for traditional media such as the New York Times and Newsweek, while others are taking their case online. Thanks to the Internet, writers can not only whip together and publish a blog for virtually nothing, but can also create and upload video to promote their case against the big studios and TV networks.

On the Web, in other words, ink doesn’t just come by the barrel; it’s virtually unlimited, and almost free. And it gives the writers a powerful platform to advance their case that they didn’t have during their last strike in 1989.

It’s more than a little ironic, in fact, that the very tools content owners are using to generate new revenue — which the writers say they are being denied a share of — are the same tools writers are using to get their message out. One of the central gathering points for strike information online is UnitedHollywood, a blog created by several union organizers with the Writers Guild, which keeps track of commentary both online and off about the strike, including videos and photo galleries.

The site features a video by the writers of The Daily Show, the popular satirical news show, in which the writers put on a version of the show from a desk set up in the middle of a picket line. Another video from the writers of The Colbert Report is a hilarious satire of a studio executive.

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The latest thing on the Web: TV

It seems like everyone is getting into the TV game, but not on the talking box (as Forrest Gump called it) — on the Web. And in some cases, TV networks are trying to take the Web and turn it into television. Good luck to them. Here’s a roundup of some of the news:

— News Corp. unit Twentieth TV is working with Yahoo on a “Web on TV” show, which will no doubt feature the latest hilarious clips of skateboarders hurting themselves or kittens on an icy pond.

— Lifetime Networks is launching a TV-style platform as part of its relaunched website, and will create new shows just for the Web as well as streaming Lifetime content.

— Newsweek says it is going to create a political talk show that will run weekly on its website, and the magazine has hired the former producer of Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC to put it together.

In other media-related announcements, MSNBC’s redesign is live (just in time for Rex “Fimoculous” Sorgatz to leave and an old friend of mine to arrive) and it has a very cool Ajax-y feature that lets you move chunks of the page up or down depending on your interests.

And in the old-time newspaper world, a number of chains have done a deal with real-estate site Zillow to put their ads on the Zillow site and use Zillow features on their newspaper websites. For more, see this piece of commentary on CNET about newspapers and the classified conundrum, and see Don Dodge on The Next Big Thing for a post on the Zillow deal.

Bebo: Trying to help TV get social

As several sites are reporting — including PaidContent’s UK division and Mashable — Bebo has launched a social-media platform with a pile of traditional TV and media partners including the BBC. Bebo often gets forgotten when people are writing about social networking, because the majority of coverage focuses on Facebook and MySpace.

But while Bebo was created in the U.S., it has developed a large European user base and has about 40 million users or so, which puts it not that far behind Facebook. And the partners it has lined up for its social-media launch include some major names — such as CBS, BSkyB, Channel 4, ESPN and MTV, as well as some smaller players. According to the press release, the Open Media launch will allow Bebo users to:

“store and curate within their personal profiles their favorite music and video content, and virally distribute that content throughout their ‘friends network’ and the wider Bebo community.”

On a related note, the word “curate” has become increasingly popular as a way of describing what users are doing when they pick clips they like and post them somewhere, or send them to friends — makes it sound all Latin and important, doesn’t it? A lot better than saying something like “I was goofing off and watching kittens on YouTube.”

Further reading:

— CNET’s Caroline McCarthy has some details
— info on ad revenue splits over at Contentinople
— the Telegraph has a take, along with some really craptacular ads
— Silicon Alley Insider calls Bebo’s offering the “anti-Hulu”
— PaidContent has a video interview with a Bebo exec

Google and the future of TV

There’s a story in the Guardian today that says Google is working with American Idol creator and producer Simon Fuller — who also gave the world the Spice Girls — on some sort of top-secret TV project that will apparently revolutionize the medium as we know it. Is Google going to get into the creation of content?

social_media1.jpgColour me skeptical. For one thing, Google doesn’t know anything about content — nor does it want to know anything, as far as I can tell from what Eric and the boys (Larry and Sergey) say about what they see as Google’s business. Finding content, yes; indexing content, obviously; maybe even aggregating content in some smart way. But creating it? I don’t think so. I could see Google doing a deal with Fuller to distribute content through a YouTube channel, for example, or some other kind of arrangement. But I don’t see the company getting any further involved in content production than that — unless Larry or Sergey want to wangle a walk-on role in Heroes, which I’m sure they could probably swing without too much trouble.

Maybe in part this is another example of what I wrote about yesterday — that Google is seen as the company that can save just about anything, and that rumours like this one boil down to the fact that people think TV sucks, and they wish Google would fix it somehow.

Advertising head says TV will suffer

The head of the second-largest ad agency in the world, WPP Group, says broadcasters are under “severe pressure” from the Internet:

“Television broadcasters face “severe pressure” as advertisers abandon traditional media in favour of the internet, Sir Martin Sorrell, head of WPP, the world’s second-biggest advertising company, told The Times.

The chief executive said that the quickening pace at which advertisers are switching their budgets to online has created a “fundamental shift” in advertising that would change irreversibly the way in which broadcasters
such as ITV and Channel 4 make money.

Sir Martin said: “Television is under severe pressure at the moment from the internet. There has been a fundamental shift and the pace will quicken, but predictions of a depression in traditional media have gone too far. Television advertising is not going to disappear. It still has pulling power, but the balance will switch.”