What is entertainment worth?
Patrick Goldstein / Big Picture Column
THE writers strike negotiations disintegrated again last week, with an allegedly "groundbreaking" proposal from the studios dismissed by writers as a massive rollback. With much of Hollywood grinding to a halt and widespread pessimism about how long a strike will last, everyone is asking why the two sides can't find common ground.
There's a simple answer, but it has nothing to do with what's going on -- or more accurately, not going on -- at the negotiating table. On the surface, the impasse revolves around how to divvy up future Internet media revenues. But the real problem is that nobody knows the value of anything anymore. Whether we're reading horror stories about the mortgage meltdown, watching the dollar plummet or gagging on the prices at our neighborhood gas station, we're all stumbling around with a nagging feeling that the value of things has become unmoored.
It's this sense of growing unease that has hovered like a black cloud over the strike negotiations. No one in Hollywood can agree on the value of entertainment.
"It's in the zeitgeist now -- we're at a moment in time where people don't how to value things," says Michael Lynton, chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment. "Art and media are a reflection of society. And if you no longer have an internal sense of what the dollar or a tank of gas is worth, it's no surprise that you don't know what content on the Internet is worth either. It goes to the heart of why we're at an impasse with the Writers Guild. If no one has a clear understanding of what entertainment is worth, then no one really knows what they're negotiating about."