Record box-office, labor strife, and more top stories of 2009

by Paul William Tenny

Seems like every blog I read is putting together a list like this, so I figured I might as well take a stab at it and bore you to death with some of the more important stories of 2009 that weren't necessarily the biggest. No, I'm not going to write about who Tiger Woods is sticking his penis in today (pun and otherwise: I'm not writing about it today or who he's screwing today, whichever you prefer not to see.)

There are more important and telling stories than that, just not a ton. No celebrity deaths here, that stuff is depressing.

1. Bulletproof box-office
As I understand it, this year is set to be the best performing year at the box office in history, right after I think that happened last year as well. I apologizing for thinking and guessing instead of knowing, but I don't find that statistic particularly interesting. In fact the only reason it stands out in 2009 is because Hollywood is making more money during the second worst recession in American history than it ever has before.

Why do you think that is?
2. The Weinstein's put out a hit
Inglourious Basterds seemed like it had the power to revitalize or destroy The Weinstein Company. Unfortunately it hasn't done either. While there was talk that TWC wouldn't even have the money to release Basterds -- just release it, this is after it was finished -- they managed to get enough funding to get it out there, and it did very well. $300 million globally on a $70 million budget. Good for Tarantino and good for TWC. But not good enough for the latter I suppose, because TWC is laying people off and seems just as bad off now as they were before, if not worse.

This makes second place because it's a high profile company that could do no wrong operating as Miramax, but can't find its footing as TWC.

Rumor has it that Basterds will be up for Best Picture and Best Director for Tarantino from the Academy Awards this year. Do you think it was the best flick of 2009?

3. Labor strife
The Writers Guild of America went on a three-month-long strike from the fall of 2007 through January of 2008, killing off that fall television season and possibly permanently hobbling up-and-comers like Heroes. But it seemed like the gamble paid off, the WGA got some things the networks and studios swore up and down they would never give up. And then it was SAG's turn. The actors never made it on strike, though, working through the expiration of their contract for almost a full year. A new contract was ratified in June after the membership grew tired of infighting and failure and replaced several key leaders who promised to end the conflict and return to work. (Figuratively speaking, since there was never a strike and everyone remained working under the previous contract terms.)

I'm calling this a top story because of what didn't happen: a strike. If SAG had mustered the guts, that union could have shut down Hollywood cold in a way that writers simply cannot do. It was a story of failure, not one of success.

4. Pay walls
Variety intends to take its content behind a pay wall this year, and Rupert Murdoch has been crying up a storm over Google "stealing his content", with talks of News Corp taking some or all of its online properties behind a pay wall. Although the Wall Street Journal has made this business model work, the Journal is a rather unique source of content that nobody else has or that anyone thinks is worth paying for. When something major happens in the world every major news outlet is going to be able to independently get enough information about it to report. Contrast that to the Journal, which creates original content for a niche audience that has more than enough money to pay for it and clearly thinks that it's worth having.

Nobody else has that, and especially not Variety.

The forth biggest story of 2009 could easily be said to be the beginning of the end of paid information content in multiple mediums. Print publications are shuttering right and left, DVD sales are down, people are watching TV on Hulu for free, DVRs are making commercials pointless, and a lot of that either started in 2008 and 2009, or found their feet.

5. The switch to high-definition
The switch from analog terrestrial over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts (what you pick up with an antenna and remains the dominant method of watching television for most Americans) was supposed to happen in 2008, but kept getting pushed back as consumers lagged in buying the digital converter boxes they'd need to continue watching OTA television, along with the government subsidization program running out of funds, and broadcasters generally dragging their feet. But the switch finally took place earlier this year and the world didn't end, although my local NBC news affiliate is still broadcasting their news in 4:3, horrid looking video.

This is a top story because it cost a heck of a lot of money make happen, brought in a lot of money for the government when the old analog radio spectrum was sold back to private companies, was mostly unnecessary, and to one degree or another had a direct impact on the entire country. Most American homes don't have high definition televisions and the switch came right in the midst of a devastating recession when people are least likely to go out and buy a new $1500 TV. Poor timing doesn't even begin to describe this SNAFU.

So there it is, what would you have put on this list?
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