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Digital prognostication

Today, writer-producer Craig Mazin and Web entrepreneur Matt Edelman discuss new media and its implications for future labor negotiations. Previously, they debated the traditional view of labor as it applies to writers, the overlapping causes of writers and other Hollywood rank and file, and the proposed contract in the context of a rapidly changing digital market. Tomorrow, they'll discuss the tactics of the two sides in the strike.

Until the future finally arrives, who knows?By Matt Edelman
Dear Craig,

Predicting the future is tricky business. It's not that prognosticating about pending technology advancements is so difficult; current trends are highly informative. It's when we try to project which technologies people will embrace that we enter the true world of the unknown (unless you happen to be hanging out with Steve Jobs when you say "we").

The best yardstick I've found for considering the future of new media is the nature of the average consumer, which is that people are simple, and most people are lazy. That means any technology that caters to the lowest common denominator with regard to complexity stands a chance of being widely adopted.

I wrote in two days ago that telephone companies, cable companies, Internet portals and companies such as Apple and TiVo are going to wage a battle of attrition in an attempt to provide consumers with the most simple ways of watching the videos they want whenever they want. As those products and services are developed, television and new media will merge onto one platform. Every piece of video will be available over broadband on demand. Whether that takes five years or closer to 10, it's inevitable.

The future of new media is that it will be mainstream media.

Between now and the time of the tipping point that represents the arrival of that future, the economics of the entertainment business will remain in dramatic flux. Studios will continue to fight a losing battle against the commoditization of distribution in order to protect the tens of billions of dollars they've invested to control access to content. At the same time, viewers will continue enjoying content in ever more flexible ways that generate less predictable revenue for the studios. So less money will come in through traditional exploitation of intellectual property, yet revenue from new media will not make up the difference.

I don't see any way around the need for future renegotiations until the tipping point occurs. So if the studios and writers finally agree on a three-year deal and the future is more than three years away, we can look forward to a repeat of the current episode.


Matt Edelman is the chief executive of PeopleJam, a lifestyle website designed to enable people to make better life decisions through video, discussion forums and social networking. He has been a producer and executive in the film, television, Internet and mobile industries, where he has developed scripted, reality and interactive projects in live-action and animation.

You'll always need writersBy Craig Mazin
Dear Matt:

You write, "Predicting the future is tricky business."

Yeah, sometimes.

Sometimes it's easy.

I'm putting my fingers to my head . . . closing my eyes . . . consulting with the great Ether of the Universe . . .

I have a vision!

It's . . . it's . . .

It's the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers screwing us!

Inevitable, really, unless we set a fair rate right now.

We don't need studies and we don't need flexibility — quite the contrary. I think there are people on both sides of this issue who know exactly where the deal is, and it's high time they got to it. There are certain things we cannot and will not sacrifice.

When the companies want material made for the Internet, we need jurisdiction over it. When they sell our works of authorship over the Internet, we need a fair rate. When they stream our works of authorship over the Internet, we need a fair rate.

We have systems in place that can absolutely serve as cognates for an Internet residual system.

And they will.

If, as you suggest, less money will be coming in, then the paltry little percentage we're asking for will cost the companies less money going out.

Simple as that.

I'm not a psychic, Matt, but something tells me the companies will be here in 10 years, 20 years and probably 50 years from now.

So will we, Matt. So will we.

Craig Mazin wrote and produced the hit comedies "Scary Movie 3" and "Scary Movie 4" and recently wrote, produced and directed the feature film "Superhero!," coming next spring from Dimension Films. He served on the board of directors of the Writers Guild of America, West from 2004 to 2006, and he runs the popular screenwriting blog The Artful Writer.

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