While the WGA strike is over Web and DVD revenues, major entertainment companies should rightfully fear the fact that - years from now - the delineations that cause such arguments today will disappear. And the rest of corporate America could reap the benefit.
With TV shows going on YouTube (for free) and iTunes (for fee), one's computer screen is more useful for dredging up broadcast content than a television set. TiVo, which allows users to access podcasts and other programming through its box, brings Web content to your TV screen. New products, like Slingbox, which allows you to access TV broadcasts from your laptop, further muddles the landscape.
If you've read a newsweekly recently, you've heard of the rapidly multiplying epithets for the youthful generation: Millennials, iGen, the MySpace Generation, and so on. Commentators covering the WGA strike like to point out the young generation's television independence and that young consumers are as likely to be enrapt by a YouTube clip of a monkey playing the bongos as they are of a one-hour hospital drama serial.
I've never found the latter argument valid - that younger people are less concerned about quality or are unable to appreciate the thought that goes into writing sitcoms and dramas. If you truly believe that kids today are alone in not caring about quality, please explain the early '90s ascendancy of America's Funniest Home Videos and the popularity of terribly bland '80s and '90s sitcoms that, looking back from today, are hard to believe were written by people intending to provoke mirth.
If anything, with the glut of programming options available today, these millennials are likely to be better judges of quality than any previous generation (of course, quality is subjective). They don't immediately assume that, since some lukewarm sitcom makes it to the network air, it is therefore blessed with the seal of worthiness. They are less likely to waste away time barely watching content that doesn't inform, educate, or entertain them.
Broadcast TV continues to be popular today because it's easy to access. Once the technology - currently available to early adopters - that allows people to access Web content on their television sets goes mainstream, fledging, irreverent digital operations would obviously reap the benefit.
But corporations could also use that opportunity to increase their outreach, either for serious messaging or for pithy bits of half-advertisement/half-entertainment programs. If this seems like a stretch, it's only because companies have not exerted a full effort yet.
In 2003, Microsoft commissioned Ricky Gervais, star of the BBC sitcom The Office, to create a mockumentary training video for its clients. When it finally leaked to YouTube to much praise, both Microsoft and Gervais expressed disappointment (due to the fine language in their contract). But it gives a sense of how companies might in the future engage the "TV" audience without the traditional network gatekeepers.