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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

ABC Says 'No Thanks' to Viewer Ideas

I've been told by some fairly high-level execs at Disney that figuring out how user-generated content fits into the company's content creation processes is one big idea that the company is wrestling with.

If this piece from today's NY Times is any indication, that initiative is proving to be every bit as challenging as the execs there expected it would be. Apparently, the Writers Guild doesn't like the idea of Disney's ABC television network asking viewers for story ideas for the new sit-com "In the Motherhood"; the show was born on the Web, where it fed off real-life tales from viewers.

From Brian Stelter's piece today:

    On the edition of “Motherhood” (since discontinued), short segments about funny, frazzled mothers were inspired by the real-life stories that viewers submitted via an Internet forum. ABC, similarly, asked for story submissions on its Web site ( and said that they “might just become inspiration for a story by the writers.”

    But ABC’s call for ideas from moms drew the attention of the Writers Guild of America, which said this type of request for submissions was “not permissible” under its contract with the network. This week ABC abruptly removed the language about “inspiration” from its Web site, effectively saying that the writers may not be listening to viewers’ ideas, after all.

    The last-minute changes are a telling demonstration of the differences between the Web video world — a mostly low-budget, short-form medium — and the traditional television industry. Just as most publishing companies don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, most TV and movie studios don’t accept scripts, ideas or jokes submitted by viewers. Unless the proper waivers are signed in advance, something as innocent as a fan e-mail message with a suggested joke can provoke a copyright-infringement lawsuit later.

Too bad... this puts the Writers Guild on the wrong side of innovation.

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