Sunday, June 16, 2013

WGTB Reviews TV on Strike: Why Holleywood Went to War over the Internet

Of the books I’ve read this past month, TV on Strike:  Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet by Cynthia Littleton has been my favourite and is a must read for anyone interested in the business of Hollywood television production, labour relations and what effect the Internet is having on our daily lives.  

TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet, Cynthia Littleton, University of Syracuse Press, 2013, pp. 296, $29.95 
Littleton, the deputy editor of the industry tabloid Variety (itself a recent example of how the Internet has drastically changed media – it halted production of its newsprint edition in March) is no stranger to the business of television and has a mastery of her subject matter, the likes of which requires the reader to have a tablet close to help with the deluge of biographical, business and geographical information found within. 

The story of the 2007/2008 Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike is a long and complex one, and Littleton is careful to provide a detailed history of labour relations between the talent unions prior to the conflict, and grounds the reader in how episodes happening decades prior to the strike – including the guild’s terrible result in a late 80s strike related to VCR residuals – related directly to their 2007 situation and thinking. From there, the WGA's pathological fear of not getting caught in bad deal became clear and we learnt how the principal characters of 2007-2008: the leaders WGA and the seven media conglomerates as represented by the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) went to battle in what was often a very personal and heated conflict between two groups that were normally close partners. 

And this is what is particularly fascinating about of this book. TV on Strike really gets down to the nitty-gritty of the labour negotiations and provides some fascinating insight into the essence of the strike itself: the important role the Internet and the delivery of new entertainment has played in drastically altering the entire entertainment industry. From here it becomes clear that the strikers did not see themselves as millionaires wanting more, but as workers at the vanguard of one of the most significant changes to the American economy since the industrial revolution. If you’re a user of Netflix or Hulu or ‘PVR’ your favourite programs to watch later, you are part of the changes in television viewership that were as issue in the strike and have had, in your own way, an effect on the writers and conglomerates. TV on Strike explains this and why the habits of skipping commercials and watching full seasons on DVD have drastically altered the TV business up to the highest levels. 

The writing, at times, is dense and in places it needs to be read a couple times to fully comprehend what is happening. And as mentioned above, if you’re not an industry insider the details will be aided severely (and ironically) with the Internet close for reference. This is especially the case in the portion that outlines the negotiations themselves in the latter chapters, and this part probably having been written with insiders (read: entertainment lawyers and journalists) in mind rather than the average reader. But that said, the book is accessible to someone with even a passing interest in the entertainment industry and would also be a good book for public relations practitioners as well. With so much at stake, often having the public onside is as important as having a good negotiator at the table and there was certainly that element to this strike as well. 4.5/5 STARS

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