One does not need a crystal ball to see the current Canadian actors' strike has implications for the whole industry. In fact, a little history may be more instructive than futurology. Since the beginning of cinema, the introduction of innovations has led to conflict - from talkies to multi-year contracts. Underlying many of those disputes has been the demand for a fair share of profits.
Over the last 25 years, the struggle has sharpened as 'the talent' demands a share of home entertainment revenues. The longest actors' strike was back in 1980 over rates for the nascent pay-TV and video-cassette markets, and trouble has since flared over DVD.
On the surface, the proliferation of new media platforms represents the same kind of dispute. What share of the emerging download market should accrue to those who star in productions is a legitimate subject for negotiation. The argument about whether online download residuals should match those of pay-TV rather than the lower rates for home video is inevitable (see In Focus, p8).
While the Canadian dispute has so far been good natured, helped by the fact it comes during a traditionally quiet time for production, no-one should be misled. The digital future represents a bigger challenge to the status quo than the home entertainment market ever did.
Home entertainment represented an entirely new revenue stream whereas much of the download market will be a replacement of existing home entertainment consumption. And where there are potential new markets, such as mobile devices, it seems unlikely they will represent a huge new outlet for feature productions.
What is more, experts predict that more than half of online video will in fact be user generated on the YouTube model. What happens when most of the filmed content that consumers choose to view over the internet uses no professional talent'
It's not just the new platforms that will have a big impact on the future. The development of a globalised economy may prove particularly important. There are no sealed borders, and competition - as we have seen over locations and tax breaks - is fierce. A strike in one country may simply shift production elsewhere. Look at the speed at which production and investment levels dropped after the collapse of the tax regimes in Germany and the UK. James Bond can just pack up the laser-guided Louis Vuitton luggage and head off to Prague.
The bargaining power of any part of the business seeking to raise its cut of revenue has significantly reduced in a few short years. It is not a question of whether globalisation is right or wrong - it is just a fact of life.
The world is changing in more profound ways than is now apparent but, again, there may be a lesson from history. In 1919, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and DW Griffith founded United Artists. It was conceived as a means of escaping negotiations with studio bosses and taking control of one's own destiny. Their dream foundered on the grandiose economics of the film industry at the time but today's technology is changing that fast.
Tom Cruise heading up the United Artists label, having been dumped by Paramount, is perhaps more significant as an allegory than as a business model. But now there is at least the potential of the creators of content, including actors, retaining ownership and accumulating the power that is currently dissipated through various third parties from sales to distribution.
Such a notion is not without huge problems. We are already seeing the start of a growing dispute over ownership of digital rights, exacerbated by the complete lack of knowledge about what such rights might be worth.
But, for better or worse, the positive side of a digital future will be wider ownership and shared risk and rewards rather than constant disputes about a bigger slice of the pie.
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