Ah, as Dirk Gently once put it, the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. The old “a butterfly breaks wind in Tahiti and that leads to an earthquake in Upton Snodsbury” thing. Well, entomological flatulence affecting the geomorphology of a Worcester village may be pushing it a bit too far but I’ve never been scared of hyperbole. In Jurassic Park, Dr Ian Malcolm expounded how chaos theory can have many different outcomes from near identical starting conditions. They even made a film called The Butterfly Effect; I hated it but it got the basic principal across. But that is fiction. It can’t possibly happen in real life…can it?
Apparently, it can. Way back in the last century, 1997 to be precise, a couple of chaps were stuck in traffic and musing over a way to make squizzilions of dollars, like you do. The chaps were Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings and they were admirers of a little company which had been going for a couple of years and seemed to be doing quite well. That company was Amazon. Messrs Randolph and Hastings wanted something along the lines of the way Amazon was selling books. They looked at VHS tapes first but decided that they were too bulky and fragile. Instead they went for the new media on the block…the DVD. Hey presto! Netflix was born.
Please Mr Postman
Fast forward a decade and Netflix went from a postal rental service to the streaming service we all know and nearly a quarter of a billion of us subscribe to. That’s just the subscription level though. My guess would be that the actual number of viewers would three or four times as many. Ten years ago (February 2013) Netflix started streaming the American remake of House Of Cards, that being their first original content. And, in some ways, that’s when the problems really started. At the time of writing, Netflix are the biggest streaming service on the planet. That gives them very deep pockets and extremely long arms.
At the risk of sounding what some people might call communist but, I maintain, is more like anti-capitalist, when you have that much money to play with you get an inflated opinion of your own power and ego. As a result of seemingly infinite budgets Netflix has embarked on planet circling cultural appropriation. They produce films and TV series in nineteen different languages including Punjabi, Turkish, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, French, German, and Spanish. They’ve produced some genuinely “water cooler” worthy series like Squid Game, Stranger Things, The Crown, The Witcher, and The Sandman. One of my particular favourites is the French mystery thriller Lupin starring the wonderful Omar Sy.
Money Money Money
Being the biggest fish in the pond means that you can throw your weight around. And this is where I start to sound communist/anti-capitalist depending on your point of view. One of the strange side effects of huge wealth is that there is a tendency to spend more time and money on looking into ways of generating even more. This tends to fall into two main options; charge more for your product or pay less for the manufacture. In short, charge the customers more or pay the workers less. Obviously there is a third way and that is to do both. Netflix raised their monthly rates and promptly lost around a million subscribers. But as that amounts to less than half of one per cent of their income I don’t think they were too worried.
However, it was the other method of helping out the bottom line that has caused the current problem. Allegedly the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) have cut the amount of residuals being paid to the writers. Residuals are payments made when programmes or films are repeated, streamed, released on DVD etc. As a result the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) went on strike on 2nd May 2023. Another concern was the one surrounding the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). As it becomes more sophisticated, AI becomes more capable of taking over the things that were always held to be the sole preserve of humanity. Namely the creative arts.
More and more examples of AI produced pictures, songs, animations, and stories are popping up and it is starting to get harder to tell which are artificially manufactured and which are man made. Last year artificially generated pictures and photographs actually won competitions against traditionally created entries. The AMPTP and WGA have fallen out over the use of AI to generate scripts. It may seem ludicrous if you look at early examples of scripts generated by software.
But Moore’s Law and variations thereof indicate that bots are going to get much better at writing. There were also rumours of images being used which brought the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) into the dispute. The big names would be all right but the lesser known actors who were struggling to get noticed would find that they’d be struggling even more.
Things Can Only Get Better?
And the fact that both writers and actors are currently on strike leads us to the last step in our convoluted chain of events. I was chatting with our very own Jill Florio the other night and she said that she was preparing her outfits for the San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC). Jilly is a regular at the world’s biggest comic book convention and has been missing it. The last few years have seen the event scaled down or even cancelled. It was cancelled for two years while the pandemic raged around the world and was a much smaller affair last year when face masks and proof of full COVID-19 vaccination were required.
This year was to have been the first return to something approaching the old format. Unfortunately though, the strike means that SAG-AFTRA members would be prohibited from participating in promotional work such as panels. As a result multiple major media companies have pre-emptively pulled out of SDCC. Some as early as June. These included Disney (along with subsidiaries Marvel and Lucasfilm), Netflix, Sony Pictures, and Universal Pictures. As a result, once again, the punters were to be faced with a much reduced menu.
Back For Good
As Jilly said “Hall H will be closed on Sunday. That is astounding. It’s not remotely sane.” That didn’t mean much to me at the time. I’ve never been to either San Diego. In fact I’ve never been to a comic book convention anywhere. But, apparently, the closing Sunday afternoon session in Hall H is the time when all the big announcements are made. Ant-Man, Captain Marvel, Thor: Ragnarok and many other were given their first showings in Hall H on a Sunday afternoon. That was a particularly windy butterfly…
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Former teacher, lecturer, homelessness administrator, pharmacy dispenser now happily retired, happily married, and a very happy granddad. I live next to the Mersey but on the side Daniel Craig and Taron Egerton come from rather than the side the Beatles came from!