Hollywood Writers Eye Startup Life

from the risky-business dept

The LA Times reports on ongoing negotiations between writers and venture capitalists to create Hollywood startups. Apparently "dozens" of Hollywood writers are looking to launch companies that would allow them to produce video content that would be distributed directly to fans on the web. We've noted that there are already a number of companies pursuing this strategy, and with thousands of talented writers sitting idle, this is an ideal time to start more of them. In the long run, these kinds of startups will ensure writers get compensated fairly because it will give writers who feel they're under-compensated an exit option. On the other hand, the LA Times makes clear that writers jumping into alternative business models may find that the reality of Hollywood startups to be a culture shock. A lot of successful online content outfits tend to be shoestring operations, and it's likely to take a few more years before the bulk of viewers make the switch to Internet-based sources of information. Writers used to the relatively large budgets and large audiences of Hollywood studios may find it difficult to adjust to being at a web startup that no one has (yet) heard of. This may explain why in a town with ten thousand writers, only "dozens" are looking at the startup option. On the other hand, those writers with an appetite for risk or a thirst for creative control may thrive in an environment where they call the shots and reap a much larger share of the rewards if they succeed.


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    Seth Finkelstein, Dec 17th, 2007 @ 10:49am

    Anti-Union Fluff

    Shorter fluff: "If you don't like how management is treating you, you can start your own business, with THE INTERNET!"

    The continued existence of the big studios shows what a joke that is, and such articles shouldn't be taken seriously.

    The writer's strike is good exaple of how insular is the net-hype.

     

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      Mike (profile), Dec 17th, 2007 @ 11:08am

      Re: Anti-Union Fluff

      Shorter fluff: "If you don't like how management is treating you, you can start your own business, with THE INTERNET!"

      Uh, Seth, I've asked you before to not take things out of context, and yet here you are, doing it again.

      The continued existence of the big studios shows what a joke that is, and such articles shouldn't be taken seriously.

      Yup. Just like the continued existence of Microsoft and Yahoo show what a joke Google is.

      And the continued existence of IBM shows what a joke Microsoft is.

      And the continued existence of the record labels shows what a joke file sharing is.

      Yeah. Those startups. They don't mean a thing.

      Just because the studios continue to exist, it doesn't mean they're efficient or that there isn't a better way. It just means that the opportunity is open -- and it's nice that some are trying to take it.

       

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    Wolfger, Dec 17th, 2007 @ 10:55am

    commercials

    writing commercials should be where it's at. Commercials are the source of income, and nobody like watching commercials... so the obvious solution is for a viral marketing company to hire the on-strike writers to create commercials people will *want* to see. There's a boatload of money in this, if it's done right.

     

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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Dec 17th, 2007 @ 10:59am

    So...

    ...the strike not working out as well as they'd hoped?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 17th, 2007 @ 11:30am

    The VC model does not fit well here.

    The ROI is just not high enough. You add in the fact that the IP you're creating is impossible to protect, and it seems pretty clear this is going nowhere.

     

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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Dec 17th, 2007 @ 11:36am

    Heh, thinking ahead

    Thinking ahead, when this all does take off, where is hollywood going to be left IF they get their wish to have the whole internet filtered.
    I bet just as they cry foul now that their stuff crosses the net, when they want it to cross the net and the filters they had put in place years ago snag their content and remove it, they will be crying foul then too.
    Or they will be forced to seed everything from their servers instead of using P2P to ease the load.
    Then I will laugh at their short sightedness. I will laugh a lot.

     

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    Steve, Dec 17th, 2007 @ 12:27pm

    Unless of course the evolution of set top boxes using codecs like vp6 vp7 from on2 make getting all your tv content from the internet instead of cable and satellite happens.... Then all the big studios and cable and satellite companies who charge you for 230 channels when you only use 23 get so old start losing to the internet.... these times are a changin.....

     

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    chris (profile), Dec 17th, 2007 @ 12:47pm

    ahh, startup life

    3 days without sleep, 15 hour work days, staying up until 6 am working on a demo for the sales team (both of them) will present to a company that has no clue what you do. that's the life :-)

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 17th, 2007 @ 1:19pm

    "And the continued existence of IBM shows what a joke Microsoft is."

    Gee, I didn't know Microsoft made computers.

    "And the continued existence of the record labels shows what a joke file sharing is."

    Since banks exist, does that mean that bank robbers are a joke too?

     

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    Seth Finkelstein, Dec 17th, 2007 @ 1:51pm

    The Lottery Fallacy

    Mike, I really don't think I was a being unfair, though since this is a little comment box, I try to express a main idea without going into every detail and nuance. There just isn't space (or, sadly, time).

    In brief, we can't all be small-business owners. Or entrepreneurs. Starts-ups are not for everyone. And it looks like big corporations are going to exist for the foreseeable future. Thus, unions are needed for labor to counteract the power of management.

    This sentence in particular is very badly mistaken: " In the long run, these kinds of startups will ensure writers get compensated fairly because it will give writers who feel they're under-compensated an exit option."

    An "exit option" which works for a tiny tiny percentage of the relevant population is at best inconsequential, and at worst starry-eyed huckersterism.

     

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      Mike (profile), Dec 17th, 2007 @ 2:09pm

      Re: The Lottery Fallacy

      In brief, we can't all be small-business owners. Or entrepreneurs. Starts-ups are not for everyone. And it looks like big corporations are going to exist for the foreseeable future. Thus, unions are needed for labor to counteract the power of management.

      You seem confused. Tim wasn't arguing that big companies would not exist. Just that adding startups to the mix offers more options for the writers. Big companies and startups co-exist (and switch back and forth) throughout Silicon Valley and it makes the culture a lot more dynamic.

      However, the "need for unions" is something that Silicon Valley would clearly disprove as well -- and I'm well versed in this subject as my degree is actually in labor relations. Silicon Valley has shown that when there are a lot more options for employees, they don't need organized labor to fight for their rights -- competition takes care of that.

      So I'm not sure why you're so in favor of a system that gets rid of that competition and forces workers to form unions that can create even more troubles for the industry.

      An "exit option" which works for a tiny tiny percentage of the relevant population is at best inconsequential, and at worst starry-eyed huckersterism.

      You apparently have no sense of history. I'd do a little research before you make these kinds of claims. While it is true that not everyone gets the exit option, the fact that there are more such exit options helps create the competitive environment that makes this all work.

       

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    Seth Finkelstein, Dec 17th, 2007 @ 3:52pm

    Re: The Lottery Fallacy

    I don't claim Tim said big companies would not exist. I was laying out a chain of reasoning.

    What I'm against, is taking very small options, and selling them as having a far greater impact than is realistic. What I derided above as "If you don't like how management is treating you, you can start your own business, with THE INTERNET!". I think this exchange is showing that basically *is* the idea, so I didn't take it out of context, given the constraints of short comments. The logical fallacy is using conversational phrasing to give a misleading estimate of the size of an effect by simply noting it exists. For example, to take a _reductio ad absurdum_, one could say winning the lottery is an option, it creates competition with paid employment, and lottery-winners don't need unions. The fallacy should be clear there, given how few people will win the lottery. Similar, very few start-ups succeed, and citing a few big start-up winners is very much akin to citing a few big lottery winners.

     

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      Mike (profile), Dec 17th, 2007 @ 5:34pm

      Re: Re: The Lottery Fallacy

      The fallacy should be clear there, given how few people will win the lottery. Similar, very few start-ups succeed, and citing a few big start-up winners is very much akin to citing a few big lottery winners.

      And the fallacy of your logic is clear from the proof provided by Silicon Valley itself that the nature of the economy here has shown that unions aren't needed and that competition can and does provide enough support for workers to voice their demands and have them heard without organizing.

      So... basically you've proven Tim's original point correct.

      Good work.

       

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    Seth Finkelstein, Dec 17th, 2007 @ 6:31pm

    Re: The Lottery Fallacy

    What you're doing is akin to pointing to a convention of lottery winners and saying that proves how unions aren't needed. One could point to the rare successful rich independent producers in Hollywood, and then proclaim they prove that unions aren't needed. The facts remain, large studios will employ many people, start-ups cannot be a solution for more than a tiny minority, therefore unions are needed. It's not hard.

     

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      Mike (profile), Dec 17th, 2007 @ 7:17pm

      Re: Re: The Lottery Fallacy

      What you're doing is akin to pointing to a convention of lottery winners and saying that proves how unions aren't needed

      No, Seth. That's not what I did at all. Do you really think that Silicon Valley is a "convention of lottery winners"? Please. There are tons of people in Silicon Valley who never win the "lottery," and yet startups, big businesses and individuals thrive here without unions.

      I'm not pointing to the few success stories. I'm pointing to Silicon Valley as a whole where most of us are quite content and happy not having won the lottery and not feeling the need to unionize. We know that there are a ton of options out there from startups to big companies and so we don't need to unionize because our options are plentiful.

      That's all that's being argued here. As long as your options are plentiful, then the market is more competitive and it's more likely to accurately reflect the market price.

      The facts remain, large studios will employ many people, start-ups cannot be a solution for more than a tiny minority, therefore unions are needed

      Seth, you don't seem to understand either facts or logic -- which is fairly stunning. Silicon Valley has a number of large companies that employ people and many more startups that employ plenty of people as well. It's not a tiny minority at all. And there is no need for unions because there's so much competition.

      All Tim was pointing out was that more competition (a la Silicon Valley) would probably do similarly good things for Hollywood, giving writers more options so that unionization isn't necessary.

      I cannot see who it is possible to get from your statement that Hollywood studios employ lots of people to "unions are necessary." Let's take an analogous situation: Apple, Google, Oracle, eBay, Yahoo (let's call them "studios") employ lots of folks in Silicon Valley. Yet, they're all fighting like mad for employees, because folks want to go to hot startups like Facebook.

      So, rather than your entirely made up theoretical world of lottery winners, we have a very very real world right here proving that you are wrong.

       

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    Shun, Dec 17th, 2007 @ 9:52pm

    Sorry to break in like this...

    I have been following the writers' strike for a while, and I have been confused by this one little issue: why aren't the writers doing more creative things to either get their message across to the general public, or somehow break the studio cartel?

    It seems only fair. If the studios want to break the union, the only rational response is to break the studios. OK, call it the "eye for an eye response". Seems fair to me, at least.

    Also, if the writers are used to getting paid for creative writing...well, why aren't they being more creative? Surely, they can think of other things to do rather than march on a picket line 4 hours a day (what do they do for the rest of the time?) I personally, would like to see some web-only shows, of "studio quality". Perhaps if the shows were good enough, the audience could donate. Hey, even the advertisers would want to jump on a successful webisode.

    I don't know, just throwing ideas out there. You never know what's going to stick, until you try, and it looks like the writers need to kick a little harder in order to get anything accomplished. The studios seem to have dug in their heels. Now, we have to ask ourselves, how do the writers get paid regardless of studio intransigence?

     

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    Seth Finkelstein, Dec 18th, 2007 @ 4:07am

    Re: The Lottery Fallacy

    This statement "we don't need to unionize because our options are plentiful" is an absurdly propagandistic fluffery - on a level (not exactly like, but comparable to, sigh) "We don't have unions here because the workers are so happy with management". In the US in general, unions are extremely disfavored by both the legal system and a lack of supportive civic structure, both of which have profound effects. The point is as a simple matter of mathematics, start-ups and similar cannot have a large impact because overall they cannot be of the level to match collective bargaining. To wit:

    This has a chance of working:

    Writers: "Producers, if you do not pay us all royalties, we will all go on strike"

    This is laughable:

    Writer: "Producer, if you do not pay me royalties, I will go join an Internet start-up".

    Now, across the entire industry, there may be a few people for whom that last option does work - or who tell that story that way. But that's what I mean by the lottery winners. It's roughtly about as effective as saying "I'll try to win the lottery". Every day, that happens for someone. But it's statistically very rare, and the effect is very low on the whole.

    There are "hot" writers, just like there are "hot" programmers. But looking at these tiny slices and proclaiming them representative is highly misleading, what I mean by my "convention of lottery winners" point. All the people who aren't in demand, who aren't being courted with generous offers, don't get hype articles in the trade press.
    Something like a _The Onion_ story "Area programmers offered more unpaid overtime, cold market conditions cited"

    Again, this shouldn't be a difficult concept.

     

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      Mike (profile), Dec 18th, 2007 @ 9:27am

      Re: Re: The Lottery Fallacy

      This statement "we don't need to unionize because our options are plentiful" is an absurdly propagandistic fluffery - on a level (not exactly like, but comparable to, sigh) "We don't have unions here because the workers are so happy with management". In the US in general, unions are extremely disfavored by both the legal system and a lack of supportive civic structure, both of which have profound effects.

      Seth, come back when you actually understand what you're talking about. I have a degree in this stuff, and it's quite clear you don't know what you're talking about.

      The point is as a simple matter of mathematics, start-ups and similar cannot have a large impact because overall they cannot be of the level to match collective bargaining

      Seth. I am confused why you continue to bring up hypotheticals while ignoring the real world example I have pointed to over and over again. Silicon Valley shows that it does work.

      Why do you keep insisting it doesn't?

      You are simply wrong that it cannot match collective bargaining. It goes well past the power of collective bargaining. I know all too well about the power of collective bargaining, and when compared to Silicon Valley, workers here are MUCH better off.

      Writers: "Producers, if you do not pay us all royalties, we will all go on strike"

      Yeah, how's that been working? Oh, look, it hasn't!

      Writer: "Producer, if you do not pay me royalties, I will go join an Internet start-up".

      Yeah, that actually does work. Want proof? Go talk to anyone at Oracle or Yahoo. They're both BLEEDING people to other companies and they can't stop it. People want to go to hot startups and those companies are trying everything they can to keep them.

      Every day, that happens for someone. But it's statistically very rare, and the effect is very low on the whole.

      No. It's not at all rare. It's insanely common if there's enough competition.

      There are "hot" writers, just like there are "hot" programmers. But looking at these tiny slices and proclaiming them representative is highly misleading,

      It's not just about the "hot" ones. *Any* programmer from Oracle is in demand right now at Silicon Valley startups. Any programmer at Yahoo could get a job in less than a week around here.

      Again, this shouldn't be a difficult concept.

      Seth, the only person having trouble getting this appears to be you. You clearly know very little about US labor history or structure and you appear to have a near total and complete blind spot to what really is happening in Silicon Valley.

      I give up. If you want to live your life in near complete denial and ignorance, you are free to do so, but it's not my job to repeatedly explain why you are wrong, only to have you come back and ignore the reality I have explained to you.

       

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    Seth Finkelstein, Dec 18th, 2007 @ 11:12am

    Re: The Lottery Fallacy

    The only thing you have "explained" is a fantasy of buzzwords.

    This strike is about the producers trying to take away royalty payments from the writers. That's the reality. The producers obviously aren't showing the slightest fear of the fabled hot internet startups, also reality. Hence bubble-talk is no substitute for collective bargaining, and the extreme anti-union tone shows what it's really about.

     

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      Mike (profile), Dec 18th, 2007 @ 12:00pm

      Re: Re: The Lottery Fallacy

      The only thing you have "explained" is a fantasy of buzzwords.

      Seth, last time: I'm not talking about fantasy. I'm talking about the REALITY that is Silicon Valley. I'm using that as an example to show that such a plan works. It works. It absolutely works in REAL LIFE. There's no disputing that.

      This strike is about the producers trying to take away royalty payments from the writers.

      No. It's not. It's about a negotiation on who gets paid how much for what. It's not about anyone trying to "take away" anything.

      The producers obviously aren't showing the slightest fear of the fabled hot internet startups, also reality.

      You have missed the point by such a wide margin I don't even know how to respond to this. No one is saying that the threat of a few writers going to startups is going to solve THIS dispute a day after it's discussed. That's not what anyone is suggesting at all -- and the fact that you seem to think that's what Tim or I said suggests you really ought to work on your reading comprehension.

      We're saying that if a more robust system of startups were created, the whole issue of needing unions would go away. We're not talking about the solution to this dispute, but how future disputes along these lines should be avoided.

      Hence bubble-talk is no substitute for collective bargaining, and the extreme anti-union tone shows what it's really about.

      No one is saying it'll replace collective bargaining immediately. Is it really that hard for you to understand what we're saying?

      As for accusing us of being "anti-union" is simply ridiculous. As I've pointed out multiple times in this thread alone, my entire education was about unions and labor. I am not "anti-union" or anti-collective bargaining at all.

      Seth, you have repeatedly come here and set up strawmen that you then try to knock down. If you want to debate with us, that's fine, but stop using strawmen.

       

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