New Media vs. Old: Will Facebook Deal DVDs Their Final Blow?

Syndicated

Well, it's official -- it's the future. I've yet to see a hoverboard, but video chat is so integrated into our lives that they do it on Sesame Street, cars are FINALLY going electric, and now...drum roll please... you can rent movies on freaking Facebook.Okay so maybe that last one didn't appear in Back to the Future Part II, but the fate of the Digital Video Disc and the way we watch movies have been a hot topic as of late, and this week news broke that even Zuckerberg and friends are getting into the movie distribution game.

According to the Hollywood Reporter

Warners said Monday that it is the first Hollywood studio to offer movies directly on Facebook. Friends of Christopher Nolan's Knight, the second of his two Batman movies, can rent the film by going to its official Facebook page and clicking a "rent" icon to apply Facebook Credits. The cost per rental is 30 Facebook Credits, or $3.

{I mean...you guys we're not even dealing in money anymore that's how much of the future this is.   We live in a world now where there's a global currency, and it's called FACEBOOK CREDITS...No, fear isn't an unreasonable reaction, and yes I think we should all just start calling Zuck Big Brother and be done with it...but I digress}

Anyway, pretty much every fiber of my being wants to come at this topic from a snarky, embittered, thanks-for-trying-to-ruin-my-life-supermegamediaconglomerates angle, because that's is where my guts go when I see this debate on the fate of the not-quite-analog-but-certainly-not-digital-state-of-the-art DVD/VideoGame/Audio Disc. But I'll do my best to dial the jerk-o-meter down to about a two. You've been warned.

In 2007, you may recall, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike, not only causing the cancellation of nearly the entire 2007-2008 television season, but costing the city of Los Angeles nearly a billion and paving the way for the complete and total nose-dive or our local economy, not to mention housing market. Not a union gal at the time, it wasn't my obligation to march with my writerly brethren, but guild-law dictated that I would have been blackballed for life if I'd accepted the big-fat-studio-gigs that were being surreptitiously dangled in front of us baby writers as scab-bait regardless of my current membership status. Anyway -- one of the core issues at the center of the strike -- if not THE core issue -- centered around the debate over the future of home video distribution, and the issue of the lack of residuals for writers when TV shows and movies aired online, juxtaposed against the increasing monetization possibilities of New Media. Since the writers contract was the first of the guilds up for negotiation, any concessions that were made in those areas were likely to be forced on the screen actors guild (SAG), and various other motion picture guilds as well.

Writers On Strike

It get's complicated -- although Wikipedia breaks it down nicely -- but the gist is this:  in Hollywood (similar to musicians, painters, or authors) when you work as a creative, the possibility exists that your intellectual and creative property will continue to generate revenue beyond your natural lifetime -- like Elvis, Marilyn, or Kurt Cobain who posthumously continue to be some of the US's highest earners. This is thanks in part to residuals (aka royalties for rock stars) a practive which gives artists a share of the long-term earnings of their intellectual property rather than selling it to distributors for a higher price at the get go. During the 2007-2008 strike, the general argument on behalf of the suits was that internet distribution was gravy and nobody was making any real money from airing their shows online.

From the writers end, it seemed pretty clear that people could just watch their movies and/or TV shows online for free, their Studios could still sell ad space on the shows, but the creatives responsible for the work lost the measly four cents they would have gotten had that movie go-er/TV watcher checked it out on DVD instead. I'm trying so hard to be concise you guys. It's still a sensitive topic for pretty much everyone who works in tinseltown.

In solidarity, I didn't take a single meeting during those months. I honked when I drove past a picket line, and I handed out doughnuts a couple of times. But it was ugly guys. Writers were assigned to March at the primary studio at which they did business. That meant that they wanted you jeering and hollering scab at the jr. executive you were playing beer pong with last week just for trying to get to work.

At the base of the famed Fox Plaza (think Die Hard) where the studio's upper echelon were holding court, high-profile strikers -- Seth McFarland, Tom Morello, and the like -- joined thousands of early, energetic red shirted writers, actors, assistants and other WGA/Union supporters in a chant of "YIPEE KAI YAI PAY, MOTHERF*CKERS."   (There were blogs devoted to daily cataloging of the most clever chants and signs...these were writers marching, after all.) But then it dragged on for months.   And a lot of people forgot what they were fighting for.   And the world I live in is still deeply gashed, as yet another contract negotiation approaches.

But here we are.  It's barely three years later and the inevitable death of the DVD is being hotly debated once again.   While some studio dudes (like Disney CEO Bob Iger) insist that continuing to push out more and more cross-platform content on their DVD's will keep sales moving -- despite their simultaneously continuing to sell that additional content to competing platforms -- more good thinking on that one Suits -- the New Media super power that is Facebook has entered the sphere, and it seems abundantly clear; the end is here.   [You guys, I totally do not mean to rhyme like that.]  

But, whatever silly writers...digital downloads are for kids, right?   RIGHT.   EVERY KID ON FREAKING EARTH.

Today, in 2011, I think it's safe to say that streaming and digital downloads are the way of the future.  Like print media and bank tellers before them, as the internet grows as the ability to create content becomes more and more readily available to the public, the institution of Hollywood, and the infrastructure on which it's built continues to grow more wobbly by the day.

But, Morgan - aside from you complaining about stuff I don't care about and the probably imminent artist vs. suit battle likely to rival the Clash of the Titans (or at least the Alien vs. Predator) how is this going to affect the way I watch movies at home?

Friends, I'm glad you asked that question.   {And thanks for getting me back on track by the way, I do have a tendency to wander.}   Well for starters, you've probably already started to notice some of the ways this effects you.  

Do you have Netflix?  XBox?  Apple TV?  One of those other ones I'm too lazy to Google?   Have you noticed that every Mom n' Pop video store in your neighborhood has gone vacant?  (I'll miss you, Valley Video Hut.)   Maybe you pre-purchased the Oscar contenders en masse on iTunes, or just checked out the trailers on YouTube from your iPhone in between commercials on Super Bowl Sunday? Perhaps you've noticed that Blockbuster inks exclusive Home Video deals attempting to hold their consumer base captive?  Do you even bother with that antiquated snail mail hard-disc service any more? You may not have even heard of loophole services like the new Zedivayet, which allows you to literally rent physical DVD's from a library over the internet (complete with chapter skipping if you decide to pick up your viewing at a later time) ...and Charlie Sheen forbid that you download...gasp...bit torrents.

NEW.  MEDIA.  YOU HAZ IT.

So I guess what I'm getting at is this:  I haven't personally purchased a DVD in easily a year.   Not a DVD with special features, not a DVD with a BluRay and digital download included.  In fact, if we're being honest, I'm not even really bothering with BluRay because I think the digital download technology is surpassing it so quickly it's a waste of disc pressings.

What do you think?   Do you think the DVD will go the way of the Laser Disc and VHS tape before it?   Or do you think we're creatures of tangible habit, and we just can't help having that little proof of ownership in our hot little hands?

And most importantly...how do you watch your movies?


Morgan (The818) is a blogger and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. She overshares her personal life - complete with curse words - at The818.com, talks art and design over at Cargoh.com, and tweets: @the818.  She survived the WGA strike by eating top ramen and ghostwriting television commercials.

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