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Writers End Strike

13 Feb, 2008 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Picketing writers.

Writers Guild of America members Feb. 12 unanimously voted to end their 100-day strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

WGA West and WGA East members will next vote Feb. 25 to ratify the tentative three-year contract with the AMPTP, which would be effective through May 1, 2011.

The agreement gives the WGA long-sought jurisdiction and minimum compensation guarantees for original and repurposed new media content, including via the Internet and cellular technology, among other provisions.

“The strike is over,” said Patric Verrone, president of the WGA West. “Our membership has voted and writers can go back to work.”

He said the strike was necessary in order to win jurisdiction and establish a foothold in the digital age, including appropriate residuals for writing in new media and on the Internet.

“Rather than being shut out of the future of content creation and delivery, writers will lead the way as TV migrates to the Internet and platforms for new media are developed,” Verrone said.

There is no change to the DVD residual rate, which currently pays 3% for TV and 3.6% (movies) of the producer's gross receipts.

A key provision hammered out by the guild during negotiations mandated new media residuals be based on the distributor's gross, which they believe is more indicative of actual revenue than the producer's gross.

The DVD rate was an initial pawn in negotiations, as the WGA felt hoodwinked by producers in the 1980s. At the time, VHS was fairly new, and producers said packaged media was an unknown commodity and paid accordingly.

The guild vowed not to be burned by new media as DVD revenue eclipsed theatrical revenue over the years.

When the AMPTP refused to discuss DVD during talks Nov. 4, the WGA responded by going on strike. In recent negotiations, the DVD rate was not revisited, with both sides focusing on new media.

“The guild felt it was important to get an improved rate for new media going forward, so we gave the existing DVD rate as a concession to make the deal,” said WGA spokesperson Gregg Mitchell.

He said the WGA felt it was imperative members received a fair share for the content they created online.

“Since the future is new media, we focused on that,” Mitchell said. “We negotiated the best deal in 30 years.”

The guild now has jurisdiction over any written content on the Web if it is created by a guild member, the content is a derivative of a guild-covered program or the Web-based content's budget meets any of three thresholds: $15,000 per minute; $300,000 per program or $500,000 per series.

Minimum new media compensation for writers of dramatic programming is $618 for up to two minutes, plus $309 for each additional minute. Comedy, variety and daytime serials award writers $360 for two minutes, plus $180 for each additional minute. Other derivative programming pays $309 for up to two-minutes, plus $155 for each additional minute.

Creators of Web-based content that becomes a TV series or feature film are covered by the agreement, including copyrights and right to sell and license the material.

Residuals for material repurposed online include 1.2% of distributor's gross for download rentals (streaming) and 0.36% of distributor's gross for electronic sellthrough of the first 100,000 episodic TV downloads and 50,000 feature film units. TV downloads beyond 100,000 units pay 0.7% of distributor's gross and 0.65% for movies beyond 50,000 units.

Ad-supported streaming of theatrical movies produced after July 1, 1971, pays 1.2% of distributor's gross. Ad-supported library TV content produced after 1977 pays 2% of distributor's gross.

New ad-supported TV streams pay 2% of the distributor's gross.

All streamed content is subject to a 17-day grace period (24 days for first-season TV programs, one-off TV shows and movies of the week) concurrent with the initial TV broadcast whereby writers receive no residuals.

In the first and second year of the contract following the initial grace period, a 3% residual base fee for ad-supported primetime TV network streaming is paid for a period up to 52 weeks. All other non-primetime programming receives 3% in the first two years of the contract, 3.5% in the third year.

Hour TV streams receive $654 per period in the first year of the contract and $677 in the second year. Half-hour programs receive $360 in the first year and $373 in the second. In the third year, 2% of the distributor's gross revenue is applied following the initial window.

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