Writers Strike Alienates Viewers, Burns Advertisers

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

Could TV writers be killing the goose that lays the golden egg?

After all, as the strike drags on, viewers have to sit through more and more reruns, and marketers have to deal with watching those big-ticket event shows they planned to advertise around go up in smoke. And it seems unlikely that either party much cares who gets what portion of the profits. What's more likely as time goes on is that viewers will take their eyeballs elsewhere -- and marketers will follow with their dollars.

To be clear, we're not taking the studios' side in this battle. Without writers, there would be no shows worth watching. We're simply not prepared to live in a world that offers only prime-time game shows and "reality" series.

After they were burned on DVD profit sharing the last time around, we can hardly blame writers for sticking it to the studios this time. And we have to give them kudos for being forward-thinking enough to ask for a piece of an online pie that's only half-baked at this stage in the game.

The fact remains that broadcast TV is still the most important and biggest mass medium. Sure, it's been struggling to come to terms with the internet and DVRs, but all of those millions of viewers who tune in the old-fashioned way -- the overwhelming majority of the viewing public -- are the ones buying the goods that enable the advertisers to write the checks that pay the studios and the writers both. There is a future for online content, but for the foreseeable future, there's no way it's going to make anything close to what broadcast makes in ad revenue.

Of course, we're not writing off TV's traditional business or content models. Remember that the scripted sitcom and drama were declared dead long, long ago -- before "The Office" and "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica" and "Grey's Anatomy" came along. And plenty of people have been calling for the death of the upfront for years.

In fact, though this year's upfront looks to be all but deep-sixed, some of us have wondered if the strike might somehow save the upfront. After all, if enough traditional marketers get burned by high scatter prices this year, maybe they'll want to cut deals in whatever form the upfront takes next year.

That is, if there is a next year for TV.
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