Lately I've been thinking quite a bit about this whole Writers' Strike
going on in Hollywood. How in 1985 the writers got hosed out of a good deal on VHS residuals and that same deal carried over to DVDs in the 1990s, so how this time they're going to get their proper cut of the so-called "new media" distribution. But the producers and studios are saying they're not making any money on "new media". Yet.
Then today I saw that the band Radiohead
has set a release date for its new album - January 1. This is the album ("In Rainbows") that the band made available for download on the internet last month, letting fans determine how much to pay for it. Nobody (other than the band) really knows how much people really paid, but I've seen speculations at an average of $4.64 to an average of $8.05 per download. Of course, nobody knows how much Radiohead would make per CD if this was an old-fashioned release, either, but I've read estimates that say that bands make anywhere from $1 to $3 per CD sale.
So even if you factor in the bandwidth costs and the web-design costs - it still looks like Radiohead is making better money on "new media" than "old media".
Now, I know comparing albums to television shows or movies is like comparing apples to aardvarks. That the five members of a band and the producer that it takes to make an album is quite different than the writers, directors, producers, actors, cinematographers, sound-recordists, make-up artists, key grips, best boys, location scouts, set builders, etc that make a movie or television shows.
I also know that Radiohead was bankrolled by its former label for fifteen years, and now have a fanbase of millions - based on that investment. That the next Radiohead could be struggling right now in a garage in Pasadena, willing to let their fans determine how much to pay for their album on their website, but the five sales that they made won't let them quit their day jobs at Arbys.
But still, no matter how you slice it, the record labels and television networks / movie studios no longer have a stranglehold on distribution channels.
And that ... that is interesting to me.
Maybe you heard about the Mercy Reef / Aquaman
television pilot from a few years ago that, although it wasn't picked up by a network, still ended up for download on the iTunes Store.
See, the Smallville
guys (Al Gough and Miles Millar) made the Aquaman
pilot for The WB Television Network in early 2006, with an estimated budget of $7 million. But then the WB merged with UPN that spring, and in the end the new CW Network didn't pick up the series.
So then Warner Brothers Television, who made the pilot and no doubt wanted to recoup some of the cost, made the episode available for download on the iTunes Store.
And it was huge.
Sure, they didn't make a bazillion dollars on it. And no, the fan reaction didn't get the CW to reverse its decision and pick up the show at a later date.
But it was a start.
Like the new film from actor / writer / director Ed Burns, Purple Violets
. On November 20th it is coming exclusively to the iTunes Store. Not in theaters. Not on video. Only on the iTunes Store.
Now, it sounds like your typical Burnsian small talky movie, the type that doesn't sell out multiplexes. But I don't think it's painfully low-budget - the movie stars Selma Blair, Burns (obviously), Debra Messing, Dennis Farina and Patrick Wilson (no, not the drummer from Weezer, sadly). A few big names.
Will it make money? Yes. Will it make enough to recoup the original investment? No. Will it get some hype to promote the eventual DVD release? Of course.
But someday will movies and television series make enough money on the internet to be profitable? I bet.
And that's why the writers on strike. Twenty-two years ago who would have thought that people would be downloading episodes of current television shows and feature movies onto their computers? Even the people who loved their 8 MHz Macintoshs 128K
probably didn't. Who knows what the distribution channels will be like in 2029?