A prescription for Hollywood's technology problems and other reader responses to Farhad Manjoo's "Replay It Again, Sam."

By Salon Staff
Published December 11, 2002 8:30PM (EST)

[Read the story.]

Here's a plan for the bloated media companies and all of the overpriced executives, admen, producers, co-producers, co-executive producers, and yes, even writers and actors:

Step 1: Serious across-the-board pay cuts. Is there any reason why these people should be living like royalty while millions of working poor cannot afford healthcare? while our schools cannot afford quality teachers? while our government must cut crucial social programs because there's only enough in the coffers to fund the military? Are multimillion-dollar salaries really "fair" compensation for these armies of no-talent hacks whose idea of the "creative process" is grinding out the same cookie-cutter laugh-tracked garbage year after year which serves no other purpose than to enslave the American people in slack-jawed obedience to the corporations that foot the bill? It is time to cut the fat. Sure, quality productions do exist and quality should be rewarded in any endeavor, but more and more these are to be found on subscription based cable services which are not subject to advertiser-dictated censorship. Which brings me to

Step 2: Implement a pay-per-view on-demand system for every initial viewing of any production. The free market will dictate price by demand. Quality would markedly improve, as those shows which were truly "must-see" would attract viewers to these first-run broadcasts. Nevertheless, prices should be kept in line with real production costs and the aforementioned salary adjustments that will serve to keep our entertainment industry in touch with the common American. The term "reality TV" takes on a new meaning when television personalities are real people with comprehensible incomes.

Step 3: After the initial run of the production during which viewers are charged a nominal fee to receive it, all media content should become public domain. Watch it three times a day, e-mail it to all of your friends, re-edit it to your liking, quote clips from it in your own productions ... whatever. This will foster creativity in an entertainment industry deprived of its propensity to sit on its laurels and collect residuals. This will certainly separate the artists from the leeches. Without the promise of multimillion-dollar paychecks for halfhearted development deals and the syndication of crap ad infinitum, the only people left in the entertainment business will be those whose desire it is to actually entertain, enlighten, and provoke their audiences. Those who only wish to bilk their audiences out of their hard-won money can get to work on infomercials where they belong. Of course there will still be infomercials; can you imagine a world without them?

-- Anthony Notaro

This all comes down to perceived value. To the networks a TV program has a future value; to the viewers it has no value once watched, so why not share it?

Yet a few years ago, before home video was available, the media companies didn't value their back catalogue at all. In the 1970s the BBC junked thousands of hours of archive tape just because they had run out of storage room. Now the back catalogue is seen as something that has a continuing value, unfortunately just at the point where technology allows anyone to keep and view their own copies, driving down the value of the shows.

The media companies are losing the technological race. Perhaps they will have to return to the old newspaper idea -- a new product each and every day.

-- Geoff Lane

Remember back when TV was free?

You bought a TV set, adjusted the rabbit ears and -- voila! You watched your TV show without ever paying another dime to anyone. How was this magical reality made possible? Commercials. The "Monday Night Football" game was free, but you had to sit through the commercials. Fair enough. So why is it that when I pay my monthly $45 cable bill I still have to sit through 10 minutes of commercials for every one half-hour sitcom?

As far as Replay and TiVo are concerned I welcome them with open arms. I'd be more then willing to pay an extra $10.00 fee to RePlay TV to get my shows without commercials. And if the major networks still believe without doubt that this new arrangement will ruin network television -- good! Once the three major networks collapse (only two more networks then in a one-network, state-controlled socialist government) then maybe real writers and actors and directors will have a chance to move in, fill the void and demonstrate what they can do.

If Replay or TiVo or Bill Gates can destroy the mega-corporations' stranglehold on the idiot box, then maybe regular people like me can transform it into something much better. Heck, maybe it won't be an idiot box anymore?

-- Orion Welby

There is a wonderful quote by Robert Heinlein that seems to fit the current PVR situation:

"There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or a corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back, for their private benefit."

Just because the media companies made money on reruns in the past doesn't mean that they have a right to profit when the circumstances and technology change.

-- John L. Fjellstad

I found this article highly amusing. Although the technology described in it does allow one to do things faster, really, none of what you can do is very new. For years I have been taping "The Simpsons" reruns, and editing out the commercials. I can take these tapes and dub them, and send them to anyone in the world who has a VCR. Sure, it takes a couple of weeks for my friend in Italy to receive it, but the content of the tape is no different than what would be sent from a computer. A VCR has all the same capabilities (for the most part) of these products, it's just a bit more cumbersome to use. So why is Hollywood scared? I suspect its because they are running out of ideas for quality entertainment, and don't want us to access and share entertainment without their getting a cut.

-- Veronica

In this article, it was argued that TV shows are an artificially scarce commodity, which scarcity enables its owners to make lots of money selling the rights to re-air the show on TV.

I would say that the fact that the TV shows are an artificially scarce commodity does not change the fact that the real scarcity exists in this thing called the channel. There is a limited number of channels, and if popular TV shows remain artificially scarce so that people can't get them any other way than by watching TV, theoretically at some point all channels will be taken up at every hour of the day by reruns. What does that suggest to you? To me it suggests a lack of creativity and a dearth of new content.

-- Michaela Stephens

"Kellner's argument has a rational basis: TV shows are underwritten by ads, and if everyone stops watching ads, networks will have to find another way to finance shows."

Awww. The poor dears. That would be so inconvenient.

-- Colin Roald

First the movie industry underwent the indie revolution. Then the music industry with MP3s, CD burning and Napster. Next it will be television.

All of these revolutions have one common thread: Technology that was monopolized by the industry became available to the people. Once Windows and industries like TiVo perfect the technology of digital distribution then television will undergo the indie revolution.

This is a good thing! It will transform the blandness of TV into the ultimate media. Finally the people will be able to write, direct, act in and produce their own sitcoms, dramas and news stories. No longer will we have to beg the network not to cancel our shows or plead with the local news agency to pretty please cover a news story.

Imagine watching a presidential address and instead of listening to Dan Rather blather on about what he thinks -- we instead switch over to what the kids at a local high school think. Imagine how this will change political elections. No longer will the candidate who can buy the most commercials win every time! With cheap, easy digital television distribution now all local candidates will have plenty of time to explain their policies and positions.

Freeing television and giving it back to the people terrifies everyone in power because they know TV is the ultimate tool. If we, the people, have it they will no longer have total control over the content of our lives.

-- Fran

I was reading this story and I found this quote:

"People are spending more time on their PCs than on any device in the home other than possibly the phone."

Now, I've thought about this, and I can only think of two devices in my home that I would ever consider myself to be "on," and that would be my computer and my phone. One wouldn't say that they were "on" the toaster, or "on" the refrigerator, or even "on" the TV, unless they were Kelly Osbourne, who is now on TV all the time.

So, this guy seems to be saying, "Of the two devices in the home that people spend any time on, PCs are now solidly in second place."

Am I reading that right?

-- Bill Evenson

Salon Staff

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