If you think there's a boatload ofmerde on TV right now, wait until the writers quit and the boatmorphs into a garbage scow calledthe SS Reality TV. That scenario now stares Hollywood production teams in the face after Writers Guild of America members voted to authorize a strike at the end of the month, in part over the question of payment for Internet distribution of TV shows.
WGA represents television and movie scribes, and the group has been negotiating for months with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over a new contract. One of the big sticking points concerns payments for content broadcast over new outlets such as cell phones and the Internet—the writers want to be paid, and the media companies don't want to pay them.
John Bowman, the chair of the WGA's negotiating committee, says the issue is a crucial one for writers, since residual income makes up a big chunk of a working writer's income in Hollywood. Such residuals are paid out when content is rebroadcast or sold on DVD or placed in syndication, and the WGA doesn't see any reason that a new distribution platform should mean less residuals for writers, especially since distribution costs are actually lower.
"Management, however, has refused to accept this interpretation, and has even threatened to do away with residuals altogether in this new medium, or to impose the outdated and unfair home video formula," said Bowman in a statement. "Given that residual income can amount to between 20 to 50 percent of a writer's income, we clearly can't allow management unilaterally to dictate this most essential contract term."
Since Hollywood and money are both involved in this story, byzantine contract terms are the norm. The WGA, for instance, wants to "further modify Sideletter to state that Art.13.B. and Appendix A minimums apply, prorated in 1 minute increments, but in no case shall initial compensation be less than the rate payable for 2 minutes," and other such technicalities, but the upshot is clear: whenever the content owners make money from the work of writers, those writers want a cut.
The AMPTP, which could really use the WGA writers to craft a new acronym, claims to be unworried by the threat to strike. Nick Counter, the AMPTP president, talked tough after the vote, saying in a statement that "a strike authorization vote is a pro forma tactic used by every union in the country and usually the vote is overwhelmingly in favor of a strike.We are not surprised with the outcome of this vote, given reports of how this election was conducted.Our focus is on negotiating a reasonable agreement with the WGA."
As a recent New York Times article on the talks points out, reality TV would probably come out a big winner in the event of a strike. Whether viewers would feel like "winners" as well remains to be seen.