The Web series reflect the networks’ headlong drive to harness the Internet and lure a young, and increasingly elusive, audience. Yet the online rush has heightened tensions between the major studios and networks and the unionized actors and writers who fear being shortchanged by this new digital frontier.
To handle much of the Web work, networks are relying heavily on nonunion scribes and guild writers who are quietly working outside of union contracts. In some cases, networks and television studios have created separate nonunion companies to create original online entertainment on shoestring budgets.
They also have launched digital studios that serve as “farm teams” for new concepts on the Web that might one day get drafted for the major leagues of prime time.
The issue of how to compensate talent for work distributed online is central to contentious contract talks with writers — and could trigger the first major strike in Hollywood in nearly two decades.
But the music industry of today looks almost nothing like the music industry of 20 years ago. There are a ton of reasons, most of them having to do with digital technology. If you are a young journalist starting out today, you may still aspire to get a big publisher to give you an advance and widely publish your book; but if you are a young musician starting out today, do you want to get a big record advance or do you want to sell the music yourself, like these folks do, and like Jane Siberry does? If you are a record label, what do you do about illegal downloads, and do you keep putting out “albums” that nobody buys or do you instead try to release only individual songs, as many people seem to prefer?
It strikes me as ironic that a new technology (digital music) may have accidentally forced record labels to abandon the status quo (releasing albums) and return to the past (selling singles). I sometimes think that the biggest mistake the record industry ever made was abandoning the pop single in the first place. Customers were forced to buy albums to get the one or two songs they loved; how many albums can you say that you truly love, or love even 50% of the songs — 10? 20? But now the people have spoken: they want one song at a time, digitally please, maybe even free (yikes: big can of worms, which is addressed ably below).
So what really happened to the music industry, and what will it look like in five or ten years?
During the last six months, the prospects for delivering free high-speed wireless Internet service throughout metropolitan areas went from a sure bet to a sucker bet.
Even as Los Angeles explores building a free or low-cost citywide Wi-Fi system, cities such as San Francisco, Chicago and Houston are delaying or pulling the plug on similar plans.
[…] But don’t expect cities to pull out completely, industry analysts said.
With more Wi-Fi products coming on the scene — such as T-Mobile USA’s Wi-Fi cellphones and Apple Inc.’s iPhone and new iPod Touch — demand for citywide wireless broadband connections should grow. Wi-Fi networks are much faster, more efficient and cheaper to build and operate than cellular systems.
“We’ve gone from one end of the hype meter to the other,” said Craig Settles, an Oakland-based author and communications industry consultant. “We’ll balance this out sooner or later.”
Los Angeles may well become the city to watch as it goes through a laborious process to determine whether a wireless broadband network is needed — and how the service would pay for itself.
Later: Tim Wu, in Slate, explains why it’s been so problematic — Where’s My Free Wi-Fi?
The basic idea of offering Internet access as a public service is sound. The problem is that cities haven’t thought of the Internet as a form of public infrastructure that—like subway lines, sewers, or roads—must be paid for. Instead, cities have labored under the illusion that, somehow, everything could be built easily and for free by private parties. That illusion has run straight into the ancient economics of infrastructure and natural monopoly. The bottom line: City dwellers won’t be able to get high-quality wireless Internet access for free. If they want it, collectively, they’ll have to pay for it.
[…] The lesson here is an old one about the function of government. When it comes to communications, the United States relies on a privateer system: We depend on private companies to perform public callings. That works up to a point, but private industry will build only so much. Real public infrastructure costs real public money. We already know that, in the real world, if you’re not willing to invest in infrastructure, you get what we have: crumbling airports, collapsing bridges, and broken levees. Why did we think that the wireless Internet would be any different?
[AQuantive’s Brian] McAndrews has a long-term strategy that boils down to divorcing online advertising from Internet searches. The two have been viewed as a couple, because so many people use portals and search engines as their home base on the Web, but Mr. McAndrews says that model shortchanges advertisers and Web publishers.
Mr. McAndrews’s proposed system, called “conversion attribution,” would track all of the online places where consumers see ads and give advertisers a fuller picture of the various ways that consumers reach them. Tracking is important, because the site that gets credit for prompting a user’s visit is the one that gets paid for it.
Mr. McAndrews contends that search engines, which long have claimed credit for sending people to companies’ Web sites, do not deserve it all.