Friday, September 12, 2008

Why We Fight

Jill Golick over at Running With Scissors posted a reminder of the underlying nature of the TV Business. The truth is somewhat grim, but enlightenment is always of value. She quotes Wade Rowland's very salient point that, while on a day to day basis we may think our job is to sell scripts to producers, or series to to networks, in fact it is not the shows that are the commodity of television -- it is the viewers. The entertainment value of our shows is not their purpose -- it is a means by which we obtain the attention of the audience, and that attention is what is then sold to advertisers.



One interesting this about this model is that it highlights the similarities between traditional broadcast TV and the Web -- both places where the goal is to lure viewer eyeballs in a certain direction by any means necessary, and then put ads in front of those eyeballs.

Considering how superficially similar film and television are, it's sobering to realize that they are built on vastly different models. Films have more in common with books -- in both cases, the goal is to get the viewer to pay their own money to experience the fictional world you have built. But in the TV/Web model, as Rowland points out, the viewer is neither the buyer nor the seller -- they are what is being bought and sold.

This doesn't necessarily change the process of writing, per se -- the immediate goal, Be Interesting, still applies -- but it could change the way we think about our customers, when we realize just what we're really selling them. It's not our stories, or our personal brilliance as storytellers. It's our ability to draw attention.

It explains a lot.


wade rowland said...

Of course, all of this applies only to commercial television, which relies on advertising revenue. Public TV (real public TV, like the advertising-free BBC) is a different animal.

It's unfortunate when managers in public broadcasting fail to recognize that they have a fundamentally different mandate than their commercial counterparts and blindly follow them down the road to attention-grabbing mediocrity.

Lorien said...

Web content may also break into the film mode where the audience pays to access content for its own sake (i.e. Dr. Horrible). I frankly would prefer that rather than be hostage to advertisers, and I suspect many people agree.