Suicide by strike

From the New York Times:

A strike by Hollywood writers began in New York just after midnight Monday…

[M]ore than 12,000 screenwriters represented by the Writer Guild of America West and the Writers Guild of America East in the early morning hours in New York began the first industry-wide strike since writers walked out in 1988. That strike lasted five months…

Throughout the weekend, guild leaders held orientation meetings for strike captains, who would supervise picketing teams, and otherwise prepared for an effort to shut down as much movie and television production as possible…

The sides have been at odds over, among other things, writers’ demands for a large increase in pay for movies and television shows released on DVD, and for a bigger share of the revenue from such work delivered over the Internet.

So imagine you’re a major media mogul, a captain of the film and television business, a shaper of global culture, one of the anointed few who can green-light major entertainment projects.

You’re faced with a massive, once-in-a-lifetime shift in mainstream consumer behavior from traditional mass media, including film and television, to new activities that you do not control: the Internet, social networking, user-generated content, mobile services, video games. It’s been snowballing since the mid 90’s, for like 12 years — 12 years of denial and obfuscation — but it’s really rolling fast now.

Many of your current lifeblood properties are not growing anymore or are in outright decline, and you don’t own enough of the vital new properties to offset that, nor are you certain how you would make money with the new properties even if you did own them. And the consumers you rely upon for revenue are so frustrated with your company’s inability to supply them with what they want, when they want it, that digital piracy of your content has become mainstream and socially acceptable behavior practically overnight, and all of your efforts to stop it seem to only make it worse.

And your company’s culture is not prepared to deal with the shift. Your company was founded 50 or 80 or 100 or 150 years ago by different people in a different time, and the overwhelming majority of your people now — smart and well-meaning managers and bureaucrats, but still managers and bureaucrats — have to be retrained and reoriented toward entrepreneurial thinking in a viciously dynamic and startlingly fast-changing world not of your, or their, creation.

Is this really the right time to pick a fight with the writers over royalties from DVD and Internet sales, leading to an industry-wide shutdown and massive economic pain for all sides in the world of traditional scripted film and television content?

Really?

If you’re a mogul, the key question has to be, what would the founders of my industry have done in this situation? Really, what would they have done? Thomas Edison, Darryl Zanuck, Jack Warner, Irving Thalberg, Adolph Zukor, David Selznick, Louis Mayer, David Sarnoff, Bill Paley, Walt Disney… presented with such a period of profound change and global market expansion, would they have declared war on the writers of all people or blamed Apple of all companies for their problems, or would they be charging ahead and developing new businesses, new forms of entertainment, new markets, and new sources of revenue?

In a nutshell, would they have crawled into a hole of protecting the status quo or would they be forging a new, exciting, optimistic future through force of will and creativity?

Why aren’t you doing what they would be doing?

If you, like me, are just a normal and normally happy consumer of TV shows and movies — at least when you’re not equally happily playing video games, surfing the Internet, networking socially, blogging, or kicking it with your IPod — then one day your grandchildren are likely to ask you, “Hey, old man, I learned in school today that there used to be these companies called ‘studios’, and they would actually spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars making scripted entertainment, and you would actually sit still, in a chair, and watch it — whatever happened to that?”

And you’ll get to say, “Well, it’s complicated, but let me tell you a little story about the writers’ strike of 2007…”