TV Writers: Meet Your New Boss -- Not Same As Your Old Boss

TV writers want to get paid more in the new digital world. But they don't want checks from TV networks. They really want them from TV advertisers.

The writers' union has taken great pains to single out how much they believe TV networks are making with Internet advertising video when streaming TV shows. But going to these niche microeconomic lengths will prove to be trouble.

Now, when writers work, they get a fee for their efforts -- regardless of a show's ratings performance. But in targeting TV networks with digital ad-supported platforms, writers open themselves up to a Pandora's box of new rules.  

TV advertisers would rather not pay a flat fee for anything. They'd rather pay for performance. That continues to be the trend. And if you don't deliver? Right now marketers ask networks to "make good" on their contractual obligations -- that currently means more commercial inventory if viewership guarantees are missed.

So, if an original Internet TV show sucks -- and gets few or no viewers -- guess what the advertisers will want from the people in charge? More writing; more shows; more whatever.  Do creative writers want to be specifically tied to commerce?

The truth is, there are precious few video Internet advertising dollars being generated for TV network shows that run on network and other approved Web sites.  Sure Internet network video CPMs are three to four times the size of those on TV networks. But total out-of-pocket ad deals can be pennies -- literally.

While the Writers Guild of America says Walt Disney has amassed $1.5 billion in revenues in its most recent fiscal year for its digital efforts, the bulk of that -- about $800 million -- comes from its travel business that takes consumers to its theme parks.  The rest is divvied up among online merchandise sales, non-video general advertising Web revenues, video advertising for the streaming video of network shows, and downloads (iTunes, VOD, etc).

TV networks say it is not fair to give writers any more money in the digital world. especially when they can't figure out what or where the business is going -- toward ad-supported, download, YouTube,, or the likes of Facebook and MySpace.  

And we haven't even talked about the hornets' nest of research and measurement issues, or advertisers' constant drumbeat of those three nasty letters -- ROI, return on investment.

Networks and TV marketers say working in future digital communities will have to do with accountability. Writers surely deserve a bigger percentage of shows they create, but do they also want more responsibility for commerce in those small neighborhoods?  

Is the writing on the wall? If so, there'd better be an AT&T wild posting next to it



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