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The Straw That Breaks the Content Camel's Back

  |  January 18, 2008   |  Comments

Online video and the writers' strike dispute create an eloquent kind of revolution.

For those who don't know, there's a writers' strike in the entertainment industry. No, the actors really aren't ad-libbing all the time.

A vision of the disparity between author and actor occurred during the Golden Globes Awards when the sight of a gaggle of sallow, overweight, and angry writers carrying signs panned left to show beautiful, glamorous, empty-headed actors walking in to accept awards for portraying characters far more interesting than themselves.

Apart from my quasi-platonic views on the value of humanity and society, all this dichotomy conjured up thoughts of why the strike happened in the first place. Usually striking writers contest wages and royalties and seek a better parking space in the studio lot. This time it's different.

What we're looking at could be a total change in the idea of the free access to video content.

Popular opinion typically holds that past revolutions were started by idealists and radicals bent on destroying the establishment in a torrential rallying cry. Despite that view, revolutions were often started by the middle classes: merchants, haymakers, and fast-dealers looking to make a profit and bolster their upward mobility.

Now online video is caught in a new kind of class struggle. One fueled by unfettered access to content at no cost to you, the viewing public. This isn't a class struggle like in the past. It's a content struggle that's still all about the money.

Has the party ended? Will the idea of free access to all that old content we love so much vanish? Will we be subjected to the world of amateur productions that have very little sense of what good content is about?

Will this video prohibition kill the Internet?

Fans of NBC content shouldn't be surprised to have video taken away from us. The peacock is notorious for nabbing unauthorized video off YouTube hours after it's posted. So there's really nothing new under the sun.

And lest we forget, these are the early days of our growing addiction to free stuff. The Internet has given us a taste of our newfound opiate and now it's time to pay for our fix.

In some ways, the party is coming to a close. In other ways, it's the beginning of better content and ultimately less time wasted searching for entertainment.

Still, just thinking about paying and distributing royalties for each performance of an online video boggles the mind. Soon we'll see fees for access to video and more banner ads, pre-rolls, or post-rolls to offset the new costs.

The advantage: there are many options to absorb the cost. But the fight is likely to be a long one. Plus, the online content equivalent of SESAC and BMI, two performing rights organizations, have yet to appear on the scene. When they do, we'll all be paying in either entertainment value or micro charges to our registered credit cards.

This is the last chapter in online content's adolescence and the beginning of its adulthood. Now we enter the bourgeois middle-class phase, paying for what we've been getting for nothing.

Technology, content, and rights of authorship collide into one furious dust cloud. After all is said and done, the Internet emerges as a paid medium and these freewheeling days will soon be behind us.

In some ways, this next revolution will be disappointing as it has very little to do with what the Internet is also good for: interactivity and connecting people over vast distances. Instead, we'll see a large portion of the Internet turn into a mutated version of the TV model.

Years will have to pass until we make the most of it. For now, we should lean forward, click, watch, and pay. Say goodbye to sitting back and curling up with the TV.

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Dorian Sweet

Dorian Sweet is the vice president and executive creative director of GSI Interactive who leads strategic development and innovation in online advertising, Web development, e-commerce, and customer relationship management programs. His work has brought award-winning online solutions to such clients as Clorox, Miller Brewing Company, GE, Visa, eBay, British Airways, Wells Fargo, Discovery Networks, Motorola, Kodak, Sears, 20th Century Fox, and others.

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