Last Tuesday the Writers Guild of America voted to end their strike after 100 days. The writers had downed pencils in a dispute over the revenue they receive from dvds, dowloads and internet streaming. For a better explanation of the details of the dispute see this You Tube film but basically the writers were worried that as television viewing shifts from being a weekly appointment with the box to anytime-anywhere downloads the residuals they rely on for long-term income would dry up. As it stood they were not getting anything for tv shows bought through iTunes or streamed online. Essentially the Writers Guild were arguing that the internet is the future for television viewing and with the resolution of the strike they will now be paid around $1,500 for the first two years for online streamed shows and then 2% of the revenue generated in the third year.
The agreement is good news if you’re a fan of Lost or Grey’s Anatomy as it means with the writers furiously scribbling in the next few weeks there will be some new episodes still to come this season. It is however even better news for the viewer of the future as it’s a sign that the major television networks are beginning to embrace the next digital revolution.
It is no wild theory to suggest that within the next five years television sets will no longer exist. Instead the typical viewer will download shows on a computer and watch them wirelessly on a computer screen. Music and photographs will be accessible from the same machine.
In fact, it is already beginning to happen – witness last years Apple TV which streams shows from a computer to a television screen and the growing demand for tv online at anytime. In America, one blogger spent the whole of 2007 getting all of his media (tv shows, music, movie rentals) online and found that no only was this easy, it was also much cheaper to paying only for what he watched rather than for a cable subscription.
Recently the BBC joined the online fun with its iPlayer feature where a selection of shows are available for viewing for up to 7 days; and for up to 30 days if you download them. These developments are great for the average viewer. As a student it’s very difficult to catch a weekly television show at a set time, but with the growth of online viewing the latest episode of Spooks or Hustle are available when it suits you.
For tv bosses however the outlook is much more grim. Sky+ and Tivo already allow users to fast forward through adverts but when tv finally moves entirely online the networks will lose their monopoly over content distribution. Programs like Joost allow independent content producers to stream tv channels over the internet and will lure viewers away from the traditional channels.
The BBC have a more specific problem. You are not required to hold a tv license unless you are watching television programmes being broadcast live so, unless the BBC rectifies this, it is currently possible to get the vast majority of the BBC’s video content, and all of its radio stations for free via the internet.
All this means that the future of television holds a lot more challenges in store for tv chiefs, and a lot more promise for tv viwers. The writers strike may be over but network bosses have got a lot more headaches on the horizon.