SAG bites off nose to spite face



So it looks like the Screen Actors Guild is walking away from the table again and pushing for its members to approve a strike against its foes at the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. In the wake of last year’s painful Writers Guild of America strike, my question is: “Do these guys read the newspaper?”

I speak, of course, about the economy of late. (It sucks, in case you hadn’t noticed.) With no relief in sight anytime soon, it’s appalling to me that SAG is whining over Internet residuals that simply don’t exist, or DVD royalties when the business continues its inevitable slide.

Sure, we’d all like to be making more money off the Internet. DVD sales have long ago hit their ceiling and there’s nowhere to go but down, especially as people tighten their belts and save money for the important stuff (like food and mortgage payments). The rental business has grown stronger as a result of this, but Hollywood can’t get over their former love affair with DVD sales, which has helped many a box office stinker smell more like a rose at the end of the day. Everyone has been looking to the Internet to be The Next Big Thing, but there are a few problems with this.

First, there’s the broadband speeds in America. Even with the fastest DSL available in my area, it’s barely enough to keep up with streaming an HD feature from iTunes (although it does just fine with lesser services like Netflix Watch Instantly). The average person has a substantially slower connection. Worse yet, the DSL & cable providers are starting to cap our bandwidth, meaning it could ultimately cost us much more to watch movies over the lousy broadband we do have. (And trust me, compared to a lot of the civilized world, our broadband speeds are pathetic!)

Second, there’s the issue of revenue from broadband. I’ve made a number of broadband deals over the last few years with companies ranging from Movielink (now Blockbuster) to Jaman to to Reeltime to Netflix and more. While I’ve never sat down and added up exactly how much I’ve grossed from such deals, it gives you a clue when I refer to these deals as “McDonald’s money”. Hey, I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth here… checks for $50 here and $100 there are better than nothing, but I got bills just like the next guy, and they ain’t getting paid with that kind of scratch. (Netflix was the rare exception as they tried to figure out the whole broadband thing, but that deal has gradually soured to the point where it’s not even worth doing anymore.) And there have already been a few casualties of this war — Guba dropped their store last year, and BitTorrent did the same this month. I suspect there will be a few more bodies for the fire in the months ahead.

Third, Hollywood has been sending conflicting signals: They want us all to move from DVD to Blu-ray at the same time that they’re touting downloads. We were all told that DVD was “high definition” (their words), so now most consumers don’t see the value in going Blu-ray (“Isn’t DVD already HD?” one of my family members asked me.) Of course, compared to VHS or even laserdisc, DVD is indeed “high definition” and with an upscaling player to a plasma or LCD HDTV set, DVD still looks mighty good indeed. But the fact is, the jump to Blu-ray just isn’t as large as the one from VHS to DVD. Couple that with the HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray war early on and the fact that the novelty of collecting movies has worn off over time and the fact that most of us don’t have the Internet jacked into our televisions, and you can see why SAG has an uphill battle trying to sponge more money out of these beleaguered producers and studios.

Now don’t get me wrong… the studios are surely making more money from broadband than I am with Tempe, but you also have to consider that their costs are higher, too. Overhead, exorbitant talent fees, rising production & advertising costs… how much can they possibly be making from a few ads on anyway?

Now along comes SAG, who has been dragging their battle with the studio reps out for months, complaining about how they got a raw deal on DVD and how they’re not going to let that happen again with the Internet. But the SAG management don’t seem to realize that nobody has really figured out how to monetize the Internet yet. I mean, how many people do you know who frequently watch movies or TV shows through downloads or streaming? In my case, not many. My barometer for the success of these kind of things is my family, who’s not exactly on the cutting edge when it comes to technology. They’re barely adjusted to DVD, and that’s 11 years old already!

Considering that a tiny percentage of the SAG membership is actually comprised of working actors (and how many of them are making $20 million per movie?), it seems to me that they’re out of touch with the realities of the business. The WGA strike last year nearly crippled Hollywood, and it still hasn’t recovered now that the economy is in the crapper. What do you think will happen if SAG members go on strike and production grinds to a halt again?

Then again, maybe my former colleague Jon Killough said it best in his comment on my previous blog post about Netflix rentals… there are always books to read, and they’re not going on strike anytime soon…



This entry was posted on Saturday, November 22nd, 2008 at 10:13 am and is filed under Complaint Department, Movies, Random Thoughts, Seen & Heard. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “SAG bites off nose to spite face”

  1. jonkillough Says:

    It is time to bring back puppets. As long as they’re not Muppets. Good god, keep the Muppets off the screen.