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Writers Guild Wants Bigger Cut of DVD Revenue

19 Dec, 2003 By: Holly J. Wagner

Home entertainment's killer app — DVD — is at the center of a list of demands that the Writers Guild of America will take to the studios in contract negotiations that are still months off.

In a demand letter outlining the issues for the Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) under which writers work, WGA West president Victoria Riskin and WGA East president Herb Sargent laid out their plans to gain more for writers working in “an extremely prosperous, new atmosphere” resulting from DVD, higher box office takes and original programming on basic cable networks like Fox's FX and Bravo.

The residuals, including those from DVDs, top the list of a “pattern of demands” document that Riskin and Sargent sent to their constituents.

“What it's like now is, if a DVD retails for $25, the writer gets about four cents out of that list price. We think it ought to be more,” said Charles Slocum, assistant executive director for WGA West. “Our residuals start with wholesale revenue. Of that, the studios generally are able to exclude 80 percent of the wholesale revenue and report to us only 20 percent. Then the writers generally get 1.8 percent of 20 percent of wholesale, and the first million of that 20 percent is only paid at 1.5 percent.”

Slocum estimates the wholesale DVD price averages $16.

According to the letter to members, “Four years ago, the industry took in $1.4 billion in DVD revenue. Last year, it was $11 billion. Writers received just $18 million of this $11 billion — less than 1/6 of 1 percent.”

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which negotiates on behalf of the studios and networks, was less than enthusiastic about the list.

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