Hollywood's Future With the Internet

The Arclight Cinemas in Sherman Oaks played host to a real live drama this past Monday with the Zocalo public square lecture series "How Will Labor Discord Change Hollywood?"

The event served as a follow up to last year's panel discussion, entitled "Hollywood's Labor Turmoil: What Caused It And What Happens Next?" both of which were hosted by Jon Healy of the Los Angeles Times editorial board.

David Ginsburg, professor of entertainment and media law at UCLA, returned from last year's panel and was joined by Kim Roberts Hedgepeth, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists' national executive director, Dmitry Shapiro, Veoh founder and chief innovation officer, actor Ron Ostrow, and actress Kathryn Joosten.

The event called to attention a wide array of issues hounding the minds of countless professionals in the entertainment industry hungry for work in an uneasy economy.

Among the topics discussed were insecurities towards the emergence of new media. Consumption of online material continues to grow at an astounding rate, yet a clear business model for its distribution does not yet exist.

Uncertainty towards compensation for online material is coupled by the rise of non-studio produced online originals.
Often times these online productions will bypass studios and advertising brokers in search of funding and establish direct relationships with their sponsors.

Such an environment fosters the growth of product integration advertising, which is already rampant in television and film.
Several members of the panel expressed trepidation towards the notion of a return to the early days of television when sponsors not only funded projects, but managed content and production as well.

Another topic for discussion was the shrinking economy of the entertainment industry and its effect on talent.
For actors that lack immediate recognition to the public, shrinking salaries are forcing actors towards one of two possible strategies: either ignore smaller roles and holdout for more lucrative parts that will cover their quotes, or to accept shrinking quotes in the hopes of finding more work.

For Ostrow (who supports a wife and a nine year old son) and many other professional actors like him who cannot risk being out of work for extended periods, reducing quotes is the only option, and a break in this trend is not apparent in the foreseeable future.

The evening's discourse came at the heels of the Screen Actor's Guild's decision to reject the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producer's most recent contract by a margin of 73 to 27 percent. Aside from disputes regarding wages, the AMPTP's insistence during this past weekend's negotiations that the upcoming three-year contract be non-retroactive to the cancellation date of SAG's last contract,

June 30, 2008, was chief among SAG's complaints.
Both the Director's Guild and the Writer's Guild ratified three-year labor agreements in 2008. SAG contends that accepting a non-retroactive deal that will expire a year later than those of its sister guilds will severely reduce their bargaining power during the next cycle of negotiations.

SAG continues to fight to maintain its leverage for future negotiations and fair wages for its constituents, but against the backdrop of a distressed economy SAG members and other entertainment professionals may have their backs against the set.

"We've got people that have been out of work for 18 months now," says David Ginsburg. SAG has got a lot on the line, and it must accomplish its goals in an environment that the evening's moderator Jon Healy and other experts say favors the AMPTP.