this is great:
This is a dangerous email for me to send out.
Because I happen to know a thing or two about how to make money on the
Internet, anorexia and I’m concerned that if I speak my mind and voice an unpopular
position, I will suffer at the hands of my fellow performers.
Ironically, I’m writing this from my hotel room in Las Vegas, having just
spoken at BlogWorld on the need for podcasters to hone their craft and find
their natural voices – to be more professional at what they do.
But…I’ve made my living as a talk show host and talking head for years,
taking positions that, to me, make eminent sense, yet to others seem
counterintuitive. And I’ve also figured out ways to make several millions of
dollars on the Internet over the last 15 years or so, affording me a unique
perspective on what works, what doesn’t and why (thanks, Howard Fine!) –
along with what will work in the future.
So, here goes.
I’m saddened and angered that the WGA has gone on strike. I think the WGA
strike, and the approach to these contract negotiations, have been the wrong
way to fight the wrong battle. I think they’ve squandered any goodwill they
had in this negotiation by picking the wrong area over which to have a
fight. And the danger goes far deeper than that, as my other unions echo
Let me explain.
No one, I repeat, no one, is making real money on the Internet with
webisodic content right now. I’m always amazed that anyone is willing to pay
me, other actors, writers and other performers to be in webisodics – and I’m
on a fair number of well-known and well-respected webisodic series myself.
Please watch Goodnight Burbank and Infected on Revision3. Save the ones
artificially monetized as a blatant corporate sales tool (I’m happily in
Pepsi/Mountain Dew’s Cyberpunx, taking SAG-level pay), none is making any
Few are spending money – actors are working for free, green screen rooms are
begged, borrowed or stolen, cameras and cinematographers are being cajoled
into supporting their fellow performer, but very few dollars are being
spent. Most of the breakdowns we see for these shows are copy, credit and
meals. The rare payments to performers in this space are welcome and
You know I’m right. You’ve seen Actor’s Access, Now Casting and LA Casting.
It’s all a big experiment, with relatively few real production dollars at
risk and none coming back in return. People are dabbling. And spending very
little producing to receive absolutely nothing in income. Zip. Nada.
The income side is just as abysmal. If you’re producing content for the
Internet, for YouTube and that ilk, if you’re aggressive, you can count on a
few dollars in subscription fees (I own ShowTaxi.com, so I see the numbers)
and even less in advertising dollars. We’re talking pennies here. And not
So the Internet’s Emperor currently has no clothes (or food or shelter, for
that matter). And if we’re honest with ourselves, we must ask: why fight for
money that doesn’t exist? And (this is where you’ll have to trust that I
know what I’m talking about) – WON’T exist for several contract cycles.
My problem is, I’ve suffered through this righteous indignation on the part
of my unions before. And I didn’t speak up. I regret that.
See, a few years ago, AFTRA pulled a similar stunt, negotiating what they
thought was a very progressive victory: a triple session fee for a performer
if a performer’s commercial appeared on the Internet. Great, you say? We
AFTRA performers all make more money, you say?
No. Not even close.
It resulted in the ad agencies that produced the spots simply refusing to
authorize Internet play of those spots, and forced radio stations to
drastically change their online automation playback, and to blank out those
spots with AFTRA performances in their live streams with public domain
classical music. So AFTRA performers never got paid that hard fought triple
session fee, and AFTRA unnecessarily burdened every commercial radio station
The current landscape in Internet production of video, audio, Flash, YouTube
videos and the like, is still, and will remain so for the next several
years, a speculative one, and one with no foreseeable income.
Here’s why. While the public loves to consume online content, no one has
successfully gotten them to pay for it. No model has emerged, including
subscription and advertising, that generates even the most meager incomes on
the most runaway popular videos.
And when does emerge, like iTunes, it gets called not a godsend, and what
consumers want and are willing to pay for. No. It gets labeled “the ruin of
the music industry” by NBC/Universal’s leadership in their zeal to maintain
outmoded budgets. Slap.
This is the important fact: the most outrageously successful videos on the
biggest outlet online, YouTube, generate 7-figure plays, and low 2 and 3
figure *monthly* incomes, with short-attention-span shelf life of a few
months at best, as users find the next darling to virally spread. And no one
is madly clicking on the ads on YouTube pages or anywhere else. How many
times have you left a video playback page on YouTube by clicking on an ad?
I find myself shaking my head in rueful concern over next summer’s actor’s
contract negotiations when I see my SAG leader, Alan Rosenberg, sending me
an email stating that “their fight (WGA’s) is our fight.”
Let me be very clear. I loved him as the alcoholic lawyer on The Guardian a
few years back on CBS, but here, today, Rosenberg is dead wrong, and he is
endangering our chances to negotiate proper and real increases in our pay
rates and health benefits. He is doing so in favor of chasing after the
Internet market. There is no Internet market to fight over yet. There is no
market in the foreseeable future on the Internet.
Certainly, he and others are distracted by the fact that some websites like
YouTube and Facebook have moronic, emotion-filled capital valuations the
likes of which haven’t been seen since the dot-com bust, but none are making
money, and none have the near- or mid-term potential to make the kind of
money that merits those valuations. Thankfully they’re not individual public
companies, and today’s Henry Blodgetts can’t hype them to death on the
Unfortunately, what those websites do have is the ability to take viewers
away from network and cable TV, and what have been very, very lucrative
network audience and ad dollars, but darn the luck…they don’t replace the
lost network ad money with online ad money. And no one running these
websites are telling the truth on that – it would harm their negotiations to
be bought by the likes of Microsoft, Google or Yahoo.
No, it’s just the same old romantic dot-com hype the mainstream press has
been known for since they started covering the Internet, cluelessly, in the
90’s. And in the end, the Internet’s really just another delivery mechanism,
another wire, with a more painful-to-watch output point (gather the family
around the computer monitor?), not an incredible new market place.
And to make matters even worse, the mainstream media, in their zeal to cover
sites like Napster, BitTorrent and Kazaa with such glowing admiration, has
trained a whole generation of users to steal, or at the very least, expect
everything to be free. That means that if a market does emerge, we have some
really damaging speed bumps in getting the public to pay and advertisers to
That, so far, has been the reality for the folks on the other side of the
Certainly for some producers and writers, they might make money with very
little outlay by making a great piece online, creating a demand for that
creative work via viral success, then selling the series as DVDs or by
creating series that air on traditional channels. That’s self production.
That’s creating your own content, so go negotiate with yourself. Most of the
people producing webisodes now are doing so, hoping they’ll hit a home
run…and a network will notice. That’s not revolutionary at all. It’s what
indie artists have been doing for years on the music side of things.
So the WGA, our acting and performance membership, outspoken activist
celebrities and our Guild and Federation leadership are, to me, out walking
the picket lines, encouraging us to do the same, posturing themselves and
our futures over a vast empty wasteland that currently is being experimented
with – to no predictable success.
I believe that we are far too early in the infancy of this delivery
mechanism to be defiantly sticking our chins out, demanding money that
doesn’t exist, when DVD sales and on-demand cable plays are clearly
demonstrable and are far more lucrative to producers and distributors, and
from which we should be able to extract a more reasonable percentage. My
advice? Go back to the table, demand to rework the DVD and VOD formulas and
keep an eye on the Net over the next few years, looking for real income, but
don’t throw down the precious gauntlet over it.
I believe that if the WGA gets what they want, they’ll find that they fought
over hardly anything, and squandered an opportunity to do something useful
for their membership.
And before the conspiracy theories start, I am no shill for the producers. I
believe that you train people how to treat you and how well to remunerate
you – and that we, as performers, are usually woefully underpaid. We deserve
as much money as we are willing to demand and that the other side is willing
But in saying all this, I fear that some of you will shun me as that smart
ass capitalist Ayn Randian objectivist Ruth’s Chris steak-eating barbarian
who doesn’t grasp the fundamentals of what it’s like to be a struggling
artist. And there, you would be correct, right up to the “doesn’t grasp…”
part of that sentence. I struggle every day as an actor, a writer, a
filmmaker, a voice talent and more. But those of you know know me, know that
I often find a way to success, especially on the Internet.
Not, however, as a webisodic producer. There’s no money in it. Yet.
So there we are. What do I do?
Do I keep silent, knowing that if I speak my mind, from what I consider to
be a very informed position of first hand knowledge, I could be ostracized
by my fellow performers? Or do I clearly and succinctly speak up, hoping
someone, somewhere in the WGA leadership receives this message as a forward,
even a “can you believe how stupid this guy is?” forward, and changes their
tactics to deal with the real and pressing issues they have?
I’ve made up my mind. Here goes:
I support the troops, but I don’t support the war.
I support my fellow writers’ quest for better pay and better benefits, but I
do not support the WGA strike over Internet production I think it is a
mistake to get wrapped around the axle on demanding monies for Internet
usage. And, I believe that not only should the WGA take this demand off the
table, I believe that if SAG and AFTRA pick up this fight next summer, they
will be doing all of their members, including me, a grave disservice. The
producers will balk, knowing there really, really, really is no money to be
shared, and will not be willing to capitulate. And then we’ll strike, and we
will all waste more time on the picket lines, labeling our employers
incorrectly as being “unfair”.
I urge you to pass this on to others in our community. And I welcome your
comments, screams, threats and more at 888-488-DAVID. You can also send your
email to me here or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to hearing the tales of the death threats and weeping “what am i going to do!?!” emails to him.