I’ve been saying for years (and I’m not the only one) that what we currently know as a combination of TV, web-based content, and VOD is evolving into nothing more than “beams and screens.” It won’t matter where the content comes from or where it lands, it’s merging, and as the artists who perform in it, your interest in a contract that protects you for all of it has never been more important.

Case in point: Soaps moving to the web. Less than a month ago, ABC announced that their long-cherished soaps One Life to Live and All My Children would, yes, be leaving the air (that had been disclosed previously), but not leaving screens… as long as you had one of those fancy Internet connections. Concurrent release (iTunes and theatrical release, simultaneously) is upon us. Cinema chains are creating deals to ensure films continue to screen in their venues, with 3D becoming a requirement of stories that truly don’t need the visual experience… because it helps keep the “cinematic experience” alive. Meanwhile, more and more content is being produced for gadget viewing: short, intimate, on-the-go.

As more homes receive their television signal and their Internet service via the exact same method, there are fewer barriers to hooking up an Apple TV. Ordering your programming via your computer (or phone) to show up on a monitor that happens to be what you currently call a TV is becoming the norm. Whatever labels you apply, we’re beginning to deal in “beams and screens.”

There was much debate at Hollywood Happy Hour this weekend between folks who see this eventual shift as a bad thing and those who say, bad or good, it’s ON, and we need to be involved early, if we hope to have any influence on how things — like the performers’ contract for what is currently called “new media” — look. When major stars, name actors, working actors whose days of struggling are over all work on shows that premiere online, when web stars get major ink in the trades, when “opening weekend” is measured in both box office receipts and downloads, it’s clear a merged union for all performers, a contract that protects whatever screen your work is beamed to, unity is essential.

Pay close attention to which entities are producing content exclusively for web “networks.” We noticed a shift in programming when delivery-based channels like DirecTV (not the service, the channel) “saved” Damages a few years back. Stars on Bravo are brought to NBC shows while shows that don’t hit on NBC are given new life on Bravo. HBO is offering its programming directly to your iPad. Add in net neutrality chess matches involving Comcast, and it’s easy to see it’s all landing here: No matter the screen, you’ll be getting almost all of your content in the way we currently watch YouTube vids. Think that’s an extreme leap? Ask bookstores, publishing companies, magazine and newspaper peddlers what a post-Kindle, post-Nook, post-iPad, post-tablet reader life is like for their numbers.

As we discussed on HHH, Kiefer Sutherland now fronts a huge web-based series. He’s not alone. He was a leader in the “movie star moving to TV” trend and he’s leading again. Actors who pooh-pooh web-based casting opportunities are missing the boat. Sure, the current New Media Agreements don’t stipulate big paychecks for actors, but all terms are negotiable. I’ve cast many actors in web-based projects since my first webseries in 2007. Many have been paid very well. Residuals? No. And that’s a problem. But if you ask the actors who made the leap early (to season one of series that got millions of hits) whether they’re bummed with their choices, you have to go through their publicists to find out now, because they’re busy on subsequent seasons (for television) or feature film versions of their projects. Or, in some cases, they’re sticking with the web, but getting paid a premium. They’re helping shape what actors get paid for working online. Why not you?

Let’s look back to the leap soaps are making and why that’s such a big deal. Once something this mainstream makes the leap, the contract has to evolve beyond “deferred pay” as scale. This sort of programming is what raises the bar for the standards of pay on the web! Yay! For those who really dislike the current New Media Agreements our unions back, let’s be clear: ALL manner of production (studio all the way down to guerrilla indie, network all the way down to self-produced web, Broadway all the way down to black box nonunion theatre) will always have someone, somewhere, asking actors to work for free.

There will always be places for newbie actors to earn their lumps doing copy-credit-meals projects in exchange for learning their craft, amassing points, building credits, fortifying relationships, gathering tape… and there will be producers who learn they can continue offering just that (even to non-newbie actors) because of the numbers in the workforce, tilting in their favor, always. For those who see “content running to the web” as the enemy, I remind you: The Internet didn’t create the deferred-pay model. It was given a chance to grow — under union contracts — and now it has proven itself to be a viable venue for emerging, and groundbreaking, entertainment. Time for the contract to grow up. The soaps going to the web will make it happen.

Millions of fans will follow their favorite shows wherever they go. Will all of them go? No. But they don’t need to! Just like cable requires fewer viewers to keep a show alive than network, Internet (as it now stands) requires even fewer, because their ads can be targeted in ways that are laser focused. And advertisers like knowing they’re beaming ads to 500K iPad owners way more than sending ads to 5M, of whom maybe 250K are interested in iPads, most of whom TiVo-blip past the ads anyway (which can’t be done on the web). Bonus: Shows online are given more time to find and woo their audience than they were ever given on TV. For shows with a small but loyal fanbase, a second life online is brilliant programming.

Oprah taught tons of SAHMs (stay-at-home-moms) to use the Internet. These popular ABC soaps will be watched online, just as sure as every one of Oprah’s “favorite things” became a top-seller, online, instantly. Click, click, click.

So, even in the “in between days” while online programming is still predominantly on a computer screen, not piped into a monitor that is actually your television, the getting is good! It will only get better.

For those who believe I’m promoting something that’s really not going to be “a real thing” for decades yet, that’s cool. There were people in the glory days of radio shows who called TV a fad. Convergence of delivery (via beams and screens) is coming whether we buy into it now or later. I personally love being involved in the reinvention of our industry’s offerings and think this is an historic time. To those who are leading this revolution and creating the next contract under which a generation of actors will work, I hope you lead well.

How are *you* leading? Lemmeknow, in the comments below. I celebrate you!

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001374.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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