As the snow began to fall in the Canadian North, we here at RealScreen kicked the fax machines into high gear, and papered the world with a license fee survey. Through the highs and lows of the collating experience (which included smugly-received death threats from major Hollywood studios for jamming their faxes), a familiar trend emerged.
A number of producers and distributors called, begging off the survey because of the looming spectre of broadcaster pressure. ‘As much as we’d like to tell you how much the broadcasters are paying, well… you know what would happen.’ (I think that’s a line from 1984.) It was as though they expected to wake up the next morning eye-to-eye with a horse’s head (sans body), or feared the sudden arrival of a truncheon-wielding constable, demanding: ‘Wot’s all this, then…?’
Now, normally we might attribute this to the paranoia that sometimes results from spending long winter nights behind a camera in the Arctic circle, or from excessive manatee-wrestling, but there is a history which causes us to give these calls credence.
Over the last two years, we have received bi-weekly missives from producers and distributors alike, demanding we do a story on (insert broadcaster here), because of their (insert expletive here) small license fees and impossible rights demands. ‘Mind you,’ they’d say, ‘I can’t go on the record because I’d never work again.’ Our survey was just another example of that.
So, I offer this modest proposal to broadcasters: Why don’t you make your fees public knowledge?
To answer the question forming in the minds of many at the moment: No, I’m not out of my (expletive) mind.
It seems the only reason broadcasters would want to keep things quiet is that there’s something to hide. While lip service is given to the notion that they’re looking for creative, engaging, and articulate producers to fill their hours, they want to maintain the bargaining chip of license non-disclosure to keep prices down. It’s the only way you can maintain this launch-a-palooza pace. But, it’s hardly the environment for individual expression.
I do not propose, as Swift did, that the poor eat their young to survive, but the analogy is too tempting for this writer-turned-broadcast-hack. As Brian Donegan pointed out in last issue’s Back Page, and Jonathan Stack suggested at the RealScreen Summit, our goal should be creative and financial symbiosis. But, that’s only built on honest and free exchange. Without that, broadcasters might soon find themselves filling primetime hours with Australian-Rules Football, or the latest nude punch-up on Jerry Springer.