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Is The Strike the Write Stuff for the Web?

11/12/2007 5:32 AM

One week into the television writers’ strike and already some people are calling it the death knell for traditional TV viewing — with the blogosphere leading the way.

If you believe some blogger accounts of the Writers Guild of America’s strike, viewers will soon abandon the run of repeats destined to beset traditional television networks and log on to online video Web sites for fresh and innovative content. Online video entrepreneurs such as Matt Edelman, who’s recently launched a new broadband video/social networking site, PeopleJam.com, targeting 25-to-50-year-olds, also believes the timing is perfect for the Web to grab the attention of millions of television viewers looking to satisfy their video fix.

“The trends are already there … we’re seeing a conversion [of television viewers to Web viewers] happen every day without television becoming less attractive, so I think absolutely if television becomes less attractive, this conversion is only going to accelerate,” he said.

Certainly a compelling argument can be made in favor of increased use of online video, with or without the prospect of a long, drawn-out writers’ strike.

The Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing’s March 2007 “Barometer of Broadband Content and Its Users” estimated that 81 million people — more than 60% of people who have access to a broadband Internet connection at home or in their work cubicles — watch video content. That’s a lot of eyeballs, and the networks, through sites such as the recently launched NBC Universal- and Fox-owned Hulu, are aiding and abetting the viewer shift.

A more recent study, released two months ago by the business-research organization The Conference Board, says that nearly 16% of U.S. households are clicking onto the Internet to get their fix of Grey’s Anatomy, Meerkat Manor and other television shows from episode repeats, behind-the-scenes clips and other related video content.

But to think that a prolonged strike will suddenly prompt TV-aholics like Grandma “Days Of Our Lives” Mae and Joe “The Daily Show” Couch Potato to drop their remotes and pick up a computer mouse is a bit far-fetched.

It’s true that consumers who already have a propensity to click onto YouTube will more likely than not spend more time online because of the strike.

But the millions of television viewers who are not well versed in video cyber-searching — and who don’t want to watch another repeat of Ugly Betty — will most likely change the channel instead of firing up the laptop.

Despite having on average 100 cable channels within a push of a button, most television viewers only watch about 15 channels, according to Nielsen Media Research. If those few, favorite channels aren’t offering viewers what they want to see, there are many more channels on the dial whose content hasn’t been seen by a majority of television viewers.

Even the most-watched cable show ever, Disney Channel’s High School Musical 2, drew less that a quarter of all television households.

A viewer who only watches scripted fare from the broadcast channels (if there are any still out there) may now channel surf and possibly discover quality cable reality series like Bravo’s Top Chef, Sci Fi Channel’s Ghost Hunters or Black Entertainment Television’s American Gangster.

Missing David Letterman? Viewers can tune into Adult Swim’s irreverent animated shows like The Boondocks and Aqua Teen Hunger Force, or TV One’s new late-night show, Baisden After Dark.

In addition, viewers can switch off traditional broadcast and cable channels altogether and tune into some video-on-demand services.

In fact, the writers’ strike could provide a unique window for cable operators to tout what, up to this point, has been cable’s well-kept secret. Operators such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable have been very aggressive in offering hundreds of hours of free on-demand content from various cable networks.

While everyone involved in the television business hopes the WGA, the television networks and studios can reach a quick settlement, you will not have to trade in your big-screen TV for a computer laptop if it takes several weeks or months to reach a deal. A prolonged strike will not mark the end of the traditional television world as we know it, no matter how many bloggers and online execs wish it to be true.

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