Why TV writers are angry 

The Empire Strikes Back

I love the show Heroes.

Every week, I sit down faithfully to watch the latest exploits of the varied cast as they navigate the treacherous world they find themselves living in, attempting to either a) make sense of their abilities and experiences or b) stop the latest power-mad psychopath from his latest scheme to subjugate, enslave, or destroy humanity.

It's highly entertaining and addictive, and makes for great television.

What makes my devotion to this show — as well as a few others — somewhat curious is the fact that, currently, I don't own a TV. What I end up doing, rather, is going to the websites of various television networks and watching them that way.

One of the perks of living in the digital age is that almost all of their content is online. Oddly enough, it is this exact thing — the availability of online content — that's at the center of the current writers strike.

See, what's happening is that the networks are putting these shows online in two ways. One, by offering programs on pay-for-download sites like iTunes and Amazon Unbox. Two, by asking the writers to create content for online use. Either way, the companies are not paying writers as they normally would for television broadcast because the online content, they say, is "promotional" and therefore exempt from the writer's entitlement to any of the profits made from that content.

OK, fine. But here's the problem. Those TV shows I watch online? They contain advertising. Someone paid for it. Someone gave money to the networks in exchange for publicity. Maybe I'm just not catching on here, but that seems the sort of the thing that writers, y'know, should get paid for.

Think of it like this: You work for a company and get paid a salary to build three different widgets. Part of your salary is getting one cent for each widget sold. The company comes along and says, "We really like what you've been doing with the three widgets, so we want you to, in your spare time, design another widget for us." You, on good faith, work on this additional widget at night and on the weekends, and you give it to the company, and this widget goes on to become an even more successful widget than the previous three you'd been working on.

Everyone is using this new widget, and you're happy and excited because that one-cent per widget should really add up. Then you get your paycheck and realize that you've not been compensated for the new widget, and when you ask the company about it, they say, "Oh, no, sorry, this was a promotional widget, not a real one, and therefore, even though you took just as much time and effort to design it as the other three, and we're selling them and thus making a profit, you don't get any percentages of those sales."

Sorry.

That seems like a pretty crappy deal, however you cut it. This doesn't even begin to cover the straight-up ludicrous claim by the networks that online content and "new media" represent an "unproven and untested market."

Where? Lower Mongolia? The Antarctic? Afghanistan?

I'm pretty sure that here in the United States, it's been proven and tested to work pretty damned well, and it makes me wonder how stupid and blind the networks think anyone paying attention is.


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