(Repeating item that initially moved on Sunday)
By Paul Thomasch
NEW YORK Nov 12 The Hollywood screenwriters
strike is less than a week old, but already concerns are
spreading that a long walk-out could drastically change the
face of television advertising.
The $70 billion television advertising industry is still
considered the best way to promote brands and products, despite
the buzz over advertising in digital media like cell phones and
A prolonged strike by screenwriters, however, could lead to
big changes. Audience ratings are likely to slip without new TV
shows to watch, and as viewers move elsewhere, so too will
"I don't know how long it will take, but viewers will start
to go to other places, and we as advertisers have to follow
them," said Lisa Herdman, vice president of network programming
at RPA, an advertising and media buying agency. "Whether we
will go back to TV is another question altogether."
In many ways, experts say, the strike could not have come
at a worse time for the television industry, given how much
competition it faces for audiences and advertisers from the
Web, iPods and every other sort of digital media.
"Marketers have more alternatives than ever before on how
and where to spend their money," said Brad Adgate, director of
research at Horizon Media, an independent media services
company. "There's more than the 30-second TV spot. There are
opportunities out there and dollars are going to follow the
He added: "While television still remains the entertaining
center of your living room, there is some concern that the
longer this strike stretches out people's habits will change."
The Writers Guild of America went on strike on Nov. 5 after
the collapse of talks with the major film and television
studios, halting nearly 20 years of labor peace in Hollywood.
At issue are writers' demands for a greater share of
revenue from the Internet, widely seen as a key future
distribution channel for most entertainment.
Even before the strike, TV ratings were falling this
season. Viewer numbers are down nearly 10 percent from a year
ago and, moreover, the fall TV season has started without a
major breakout hit from ABC, NBC, CBS or FOX.
"If this strike wasn't happening, we would be spending this
time talking about the ratings and what are we going to do
about them," RPA's Herdman said.
Chances that any of the new shows will catch fire become
far smaller should a strike force networks to replace today's
programs with reruns or unscripted content like news magazines
or reality shows.
"The fact that so many new prime-time shows are struggling
to find an audience, and now you're going to take them off the
air for who-knows-how-long, the odds are that even the
audiences they generated for the last several weeks are just
not going to come back," said Jack Myers, a media industry
veteran and editor of JackMyers.com.
Most prime-time scripted comedies and dramas are likely to
shut down production later this month if the strike is not
settled. At the moment, the impact is mainly being felt by talk
shows like NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and CBS's
"Late Show With David Letterman."
Few are willing to predict how long the work stoppage will
last, but a strike by the Writers Guild in 1988 lasted for 22
weeks, delaying the start of the fall TV season that year and
costing the industry an estimated $500 million.
"If it goes past Thanksgiving, we're looking well into the
first quarter before there is a resolution," Myers said. "It's
unlikely they are going to solve between Thanksgiving and
Christmas. Positions harden, plus there are no obvious
The worst-case scenario would see the strike dragging out
well into the spring, the season when the industry prepares for
the upfront market, in which networks present their new
programming schedules to advertisers and affiliates.
Around $9 billion of prime-time commercial deals are sold
by the major networks in the weeks after the presentations.
"The networks would need to make a choice as to whether
they wanted to present the schedule without pilots, in many
cases without concepts, heavily weighted toward returning and
reality programming, and with an inability to estimate ratings
for the ad community," Myers said.
Under that scenario, "I think there is a very good chance
the upfronts would be canceled," he added.
ABC is owned by Walt Disney Co. (DIS.N), CBS is owned by
CBS Corp (CBS.N), Fox is owned by News Corp NWSa.N and NBC is
majority owned by General Electric (GE.N).
(Editing by Gary Hill)