WGA writers, whose pencils are (mostly) down and PC’s off, have lately occupied themselves walking picket lines and chanting protest slogans. Many have found time for a bit of auteurism, creating a growing number of YouTube videos explaining the writers’ position (reportedly an astonishing 750 videos to date). The videos — by turns impassioned and humorous — have collectively attracted notice.
But, like the dog that didn’t bark, the real mystery is why the producers haven’t produced. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) has created no YouTube videos of its own, opting instead for the old-media alternative of occasional paid advertising in the NY Times, LA Times and trades, and an op ed piece in the LA Times. I wish I could offer you a link to the AMPTP’s new YouTube video — like my headline promises — but I can’t, because there isn’t one (that link will just give you a blank screen). The companies’ strategy has been more NoTube than YouTube.
But why? With all their resources, why haven’t the AMPTP companies produced and distributed video content of their own? It’s not for lack of writers; the companies could use non-WGA writers if they wished, since new media is not a covered area, and in-house promotional activity presumably isn’t either (and, in any case, the WGA agreement expired October 31 and is no longer in effect). Nor is it because the companies don’t have a case to make; they do, although I disagree with much of it.
And, the companies’ audio-visual silence does not represent a failure to understand the importance of public opinion — otherwise, why buy the ads and write the op-ed piece? Nor can the absence of company content be explained by pointing to the success of the AMPTP’s traditional PR methods, because there’s nothing to point to. On the contrary, the companies are losing the PR battle, and badly; for instance, over two-thirds of respondents to a Variety survey said that the writers were representing themselves more clearly, forcefully, honestly and forthrightly than the companies. In addition, half the respondents see the AMPTP in a more negative light as a result of the strike.
The only remaining explanation is that the studios and networks — the country’s largest media companies — just don’t understand new media, or they have carelessly allowed their representative, the AMPTP, to function without comprehending the importance of new media. Online, and on cellphone and iPod screens, is increasingly where the eyeballs are, not to mention the hearts and minds (thankfully, that’s as anatomical as we need to get). Newspapers, and television, also matter, a lot; but ignoring a fast-growing, young-skewing medium makes companies seem stodgy at best, and ever more the villain — or, “the man,” if you prefer — at worst.
Does it matter? Yes. A business that loses the love of its customers might soon find itself more busy suing them than selling to them. The studios seem to have inadequately taken note of the lessons the music industry offers, so here’s one that bears repeating: piracy is hard enough to combat, but even more so if there’s no love lost between consumer and company.
In addition, a company that can’t figure out how to use new media on its own behalf will have an even harder time understanding how and why its customers use new media. Not for nothing have Silicon Valley companies successfully portrayed
This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on November 27, 2007 at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-handel/exclusive-the-amptp-yout_b_74237.html?refresh_comments=1.